Convinced the Minnesota Vikings could leave the state if they don't get a new stadium, Gov. Mark Dayton is determined to keep them here.
On Wednesday, he convened a series of rapid-fire, closed-door meetings with Ramsey County officials, team owners and even a group that wants to build a downtown Minneapolis casino that could help pay for the new stadium.
"The ball's in our court," Dayton said after the meetings, vowing to prepare his own stadium proposal by Nov. 7.
His recommendations will include such details as where the new stadium should be, who should run it and how the state should pay for its $300 million share. Dayton and his top staffers and commissioners have been racing to see what could work and what won't in a final stadium deal.
Dayton's pledge to draw up his own concrete proposal and the high-level meetings were not only signs of the governor's commitment to do a stadium deal but also a vivid example of how much remains to be done.
In the meeting with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, Dayton made clear he expects the Vikings to cover any cost overruns at the Ramsey County Arden Hills site the team has picked for its new home. He also said the team should have no right to pull out of the project once it agrees to it. Dayton said Wilf told him he would consider his conditions.
"There cannot be any walk-away rights for anybody in this project," he said. "We proceed together."
The Vikings owner emerged from the closed-door meeting with Dayton and briskly walked away from reporters. Wilf answered just one question: Are you happy with the progress?
"I am," he said.
Dayton heaped a lot of conditions on the Arden Hills site but also talked glowingly about the potential for residential and commercial development that could transform a blighted site. Dayton said: "To me, that's one of the great upsides."
Dayton left open the idea, however, that attention may turn to a downtown Minneapolis site.
"If, for whatever reason, the Ramsey County site isn't feasible, I am certainly in favor of the Minneapolis site over Los Angeles or some other site," Dayton said. Los Angeles is on track to build a new stadium and will need a team to fill it.
Dayton wants to call a special legislative session by Thanksgiving to determine the fate of the proposed new stadium. National Football League officials, who met with Dayton Tuesday, said a Minnesota stadium stalemate may force the team to consider "an alternative plan in another city."
The Vikings and Ramsey County officials have agreed to build the stadium in Arden Hills and the county has said it is willing to raise county sales taxes to pay $350 million of the stadium's cost. A recent Metropolitan Council report said that plan's timeline was "unrealistic."
The team said it will kick in at least $407 million for the $1.1 billion project, which could include a $150 million loan from the NFL.
For 45 minutes Wednesday, Dayton also met with a group that wants to build a casino on Block E in downtown Minneapolis.
Developers say the state could take in $100 million a year from the project, which could be used to help pay for the stadium.
They had a "very nice discussion," said Bob Lux, a principal with the development group, Alatus Corp. "We are very excited."
Lux said Dayton's staff invited them to meet with the governor.
It remains unclear whether new gambling revenue would be included in the final stadium deal. Indian tribes that have a lock on casino-style gambling in the state could file lawsuits to block the project.
Monday, Dayton will meet with Republican legislative leaders, crucial to any stadium deal. He already met with top lawmakers this week, but he is convening a second formal meeting to continue to hash out disagreements. So far, many Republicans have been cool to Dayton's efforts.
Meanwhile, more trouble could be emerging for the Arden Hills site.
Organizers of an effort to let Ramsey County residents vote on a proposed stadium sales tax said Wednesday that they expect to kick off their petition drive within a couple weeks. Republican legislative leaders have also said they support the idea of a referendum. But some stadium supporters have said such a vote could kill the project.
Ady Wickstrom, a Shoreview City Council member, said they will seek a referendum on either a county charter amendment or a county ordinance that would bar sales tax revenue for a big-league football or baseball stadium without a vote of the people.
"The time is now," Wickstrom said. "It's on people's minds. Come the holidays, it's going to be a distant memory."
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288