Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday said he is leaning toward Minneapolis' Linden Avenue site near the Basilica of St. Mary for a new Vikings stadium, and the team is giving fresh indications that it is warming to that spot.
Speaking for the first time since his deadline to submit stadium plans, Dayton cautioned that all three front-running sites have major problems that prevented him from making a clear recommendation and which could block a stadium solution by the Legislature this year.
"There's not yet a stadium proposal with a complete and sufficient financial plan," Dayton said. "No site's sponsor has adequately resolved the major unanswered questions in order to merit the approval to proceed."
Dayton was firm about the fate of one site: The Vikings' previously preferred site at Arden Hills, he said, "is not financially viable." The Vikings, he said, could choose to contribute $700 million to the cost of the $1.1 billion stadium -- something the Vikings immediately said would not be possible.
Similarly, Dayton said he did not consider the Farmers Market site to be in contention. The Metrodome, the team's home for 30 years, remains a fallback site, Dayton said, but lacks the economic development potential of Linden Avenue.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley called the Linden Avenue site "intriguing," and said: "It's got the ability to share game-day experience with [the] Twins and Target Center. If Arden Hills is not achievable, we will work with state leaders and the city of Minneapolis to try to negotiate an agreement."
Bagley, the team's vice president for stadium development, stopped short of a full embrace.
"We are not there yet," he said. "We have to study this."
While the DFL governor gave a sobering analysis of each of the sites' deficiencies, he nonetheless said the Viking stadium drama was nearing the goal line as the Legislature prepares to convene next Tuesday. "We're at the 5-yard line," he said.
But major signs emerged quickly Wednesday that showed key Republican legislators did not share Dayton's optimism.
Both the chief House and Senate stadium legislation authors reacted coolly to Dayton's comments, which came with little warning on Wednesday.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, a stadium bill author, said that "despite the governor's statements, I plan to continue evaluating all serious proposals."
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House sponsor, said that if Dayton and others had made up their minds on a stadium site, "I'm telling you as stadium author, that's not where I'm at."
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said he will continue to back the Metrodome as the least expensive location. Rybak said it would be "easier to get the support, significantly, for the Metrodome," from the City Council and "harder" to round up votes for the Linden Avenue location.
That site also faces renewed opposition from the Rev. John Bauer, the basilica's rector. Bauer said that the stadium would create significant parking problems and that its construction nearby could threaten the fragile church.
"Our concerns are very significant, very serious for us," said Bauer, who hinted that the basilica might bring legal action. "At this point, we don't believe that they can be addressed to our satisfaction."
Dayton said his office has met with Bauer and will meet with him again on Friday. The site's chief appeal, Dayton said, lies in its proximity to downtown, other entertainment venues and the Minnesota Twins' Target Field.
The governor touched on the stadium's other main stumbling block -- how a public subsidy package would help pay for it -- but reiterated Wednesday that allowing electronic pulltabs in Minnesota's bars could raise more than enough money without drawing the ire of Indian tribes, who operate the state's casinos and generally oppose any expansion of gambling.
Ramsey County officials declined to comment on Dayton's critique of the Arden Hills proposal.
Dayton said that short of the Vikings upping their contribution, Ramsey County would have to find a way to fund the project with a local tax that did not need legislative approval, or find a completely different way to raise at least $350 million locally for the stadium.
The team had said it would contribute $425 million to the Arden Hills site, but said $700 million would not be possible. Team officials also said they did not know how much they were willing to put toward a Minneapolis location.
Dayton said the Metrodome location could work for a new stadium, but he was concerned that in 30 years, the site had never spurred any nearby economic development. The Star Tribune owns five blocks near the Metrodome that could be involved in a stadium deal. The Vikings struck a tentative $45 million deal for that property in 2007 but withdrew, citing turmoil in credit markets.
Additionally, Dayton said, while the Metrodome appears to be the least expensive short-term option, the cost of having the Vikings play at the University of Minnesota during new stadium construction on the dome site could cancel out any savings. The team has said the move could cost nearly $50 million in lost revenue and other costs.
That makes the cost difference compared to other sites "relatively inconsequential," the governor said.
Ted Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, said he now puts the cost of building at the Metrodome at $918 million. An early city estimate of the Linden Avenue location was $1.03 billion.
Sam Grabarski, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said business leaders are ready to follow the Vikings' wishes at either the Metrodome or Linden Avenue.
"The Vikings have felt unable to say too much about sites other than the Arden Hills site," Grabarski said. "But when it comes down to them being able to express themselves openly, I think they are going to pick Linden Avenue."
City Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents much of downtown Minneapolis, said she is opposed to the Linden Avenue site.
Powerful business interests, she said, were now "foisting" the location on city officials. "It's the 1 percent telling the 99 percent what to do," she said.
Staff writers Eric Roper and Kevin Duchschere also contributed to this report.
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673