EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —It's the ending of an era for the Minnesota Vikings and the beginning of another.
The organization announced Tuesday that it intends to hold Verizon Vikings Training Camp at the team's new practice facility, Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, in Eagan in 2018 and beyond.
That means this year's camp will be the 52nd and final hosted by Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren said the franchise's move away from Mankato is bittersweet because of the strong relationships the Vikings have enjoyed with the college and community.
"From the bottom of all our of hearts — anyone who has ever worked with the Vikings, every coach, every player, every staff (member), every owner — truly understands that there's a special relationship with Minnesota State University, Mankato," said Warren, who spoke to the Twin Cities media on Tuesday. "We're very grateful, honored and humbled to have had a 52-year relationship to host training camp.
"To be able to do something consistently with our partners with the state of Minnesota for 52 years, it has been truly a blessing," Warren added. "We would really like to thank everyone associated with Minnesota State University, Mankato … and all of our fans who not only live in Mankato but everyone who made it a point to drive down and spend time at training camp."
Lester Bagley, Vikings Executive Vice President - Public Affairs, added: "This is a tough day. It's an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate our partners (in Mankato)."
Minnesota State University, Mankato President Richard Davenport said he hoped plenty of fans would make one final trek down to the college campus to create more training camp memories.
"On behalf of Minnesota State University, Mankato, I want to express a sincere thank you to the Minnesota Vikings for 52 years of training camp on our campus," Davenport said in a statement. "As we prepare to celebrate the University's 150th anniversary in 2018, it's noteworthy to point out that we have been a Vikings partner for more than 1/3 of our institution's history. We have greatly appreciated our relationship with the Vikings through the years, and we will cherish the memories. I invite fans from Minnesota and beyond to join us in enjoying one final Vikings training camp this summer at Minnesota State Mankato."
The Vikings are scheduled to move into their new facility — Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center — in March of 2018. Plans call for a 6,000-seat stadium that will be expandable to a capacity of about 10,000.
Bagley said the new facility will provide players and coaches with the best opportunity to be successful on the football field.
"There's an opportunity to bring our players into a state-of-the-art facility," Bagley said. "That's the environment [Head] Coach [Mike] Zimmer and [Vikings General Manager] Rick Spielman and our ownership are trying to create."
Warren said the Vikings considered traveling to Mankato for a week or so for each future training camp, but said it was not feasible from a logistical standpoint. He noted that members of the Vikings organization have been making trips to Mankato the past few weeks to get set up for training camp.
According to a list on NFL.com, 20 NFL teams will practice at their own facility this summer, an upward trend as the lengths of training camps have been reduced over the years.
"We're excited as an organization to make sure we provide our football operations an opportunity to have the best possible working environment," Warren said. "There are many hours and days of logistics that go into the preparation and operation of training camp … to be able to have all of our employees under one roof."
The Vikings plan to celebrate the upcoming training camp in Mankato in grand fashion.
Each fan who attends a session in Mankato will receive a free commemorative poster, and this year's Training Camp Playbook *will celebrate camp history. *
The Vikings also are planning on endowing a scholarship at the university. The organization also will hold a special event at the night practice on Aug. 5 and will host a thank-you ceremony for partners on Aug. 7.
Take a look back at some classic pictures from Vikings Training Camp in Mankato and TCO Performance Center through the years.
Warren and Bagley said the Vikings will also increase their presence in surrounding areas through football camps and various community endeavors.
"We have worked hard and will continue to make sure that we are the Minnesota Vikings and will continue to represent every county and every city in the state of Minnesota," Warren said.
Added Bagley: "We have great fans in Marshall and Duluth and Rochester as well as Mankato. We've taken our brand out and received tremendous feedback … that will be enhanced to all corners of Minnesota."
Vikings officials said the 2016 training camp drew approximately 64,000 fans in less than three weeks. They envision future training camps in Eagan being able to surpass that attendance mark. The plan is to continue to keep future camp practices open to the public.
"We anticipate, with proximity to the metro area and proximity to the airport … a lot of Vikings fans plan their summer vacations around visits to camp, and we want to accommodate that," Bagley said.
Training camp is just around the corner, as select quarterbacks, rookies, players who have yet to accrue a season and select injured players will report to camp on Sunday. The remaining players will report on Wednesday, July 26.