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The Minnesota Vikings are taking a closer look at a stadium site in downtown Minneapolis near the Basilica of St. Mary, a $1.03 billion proposal that so far is the least known of the team's possible new homes.
While the team insists its first choice remains Ramsey County's Arden Hills, a Vikings spokesman said the team is conducting a detailed traffic analysis of the so-called Linden Avenue site because the property's ability to house a stadium was relatively unknown. Lester Bagley, the team's vice president for stadium development and public affairs, cautioned that the team does not yet have a preferred site for a new stadium in Minneapolis.
But in a telling statement this week, Bagley added that the proposed Farmers Market property -- another site near the Minnesota Twins' Target Field favored by some influential stadium advocates -- has "significant" challenges.
With the Legislature set to convene Jan. 24, and with Gov. Mark Dayton and others expected to push again for a public subsidy package for a new stadium, the jockeying over a stadium site is expected to intensify in the first weeks of January. The stadium's location, along with how to publicly fund its construction, have been the project's two biggest unsolved hurdles.
Ted Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, said the Linden Avenue site "has a lot of possibilities" but added that all four sites being discussed for a new stadium have strengths and weaknesses. He added, however, that team, state and local officials were moving closer to selecting a site. "If we're not talking about [one] site in mid-January, we're behind," Mondale said on Thursday.
Three sites in Minneapolis are being promoted for a new Vikings stadium: the $1.04 billion Farmers Market site, the lesser-known Linden Avenue property and the Metrodome site, where the team has played for nearly 30 years and, at $895 million, is seen as the least expensive site.
Vikings and Ramsey County officials have tentatively put the cost of an Arden Hills stadium at $1.1 billion.
Bagley: Answers needed
"We've got our traffic engineers to weigh in and to evaluate" the Linden Avenue site, Bagley said on Wednesday. He minimized the significance of the studies. He said the team had to learn, "First of all, is there enough available parking?" and "What's the status of the property acquisition?"
"If the legislative [funding] package needs to have a viable site and if there's an expectation by anybody that the Linden Avenue site is going to be in that package, then there need to be answers to those questions," he said.
"All those questions have been answered on Arden Hills," Bagley added.
At a Senate hearing earlier this month, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city's first choice would be building a new stadium at the Metrodome, largely because it was cheaper and could take advantage of light-rail transit and other existing infrastructure. In describing the city's three sites in October, Rybak said the Linden Avenue site, which surfaced publicly only three months ago, "made a ton of sense" for a stadium; city officials said the property was appealing because the city and Xcel Energy already own much of it.
The mayor said the city's contribution to a Linden Avenue stadium would be $285 million, either through city sales tax and lodging tax increases or money from a downtown casino. The city, he said, would contribute $300 million to the Farmers Market site and an estimated $195 million at the Metrodome.
Bagley said there have been several recent meetings with Minneapolis city officials since a Senate hearing on Nov. 29, when the team was urged to explore whether it had any lingering interest in building in the state's largest city.
Farmers Market site issues
Barb Johnson, the Minneapolis City Council president, said on Thursday that Vikings officials had told her the team was concerned about the sloping elevation of the Farmers Market site, as well as the presence of Sharing and Caring Hands, a longtime charity for the needy that might have to be relocated.
"The challenges at the Farmers Market site are significant," Bagley said. At a meeting last week of downtown Minneapolis business leaders, Bagley echoed the problems at the Farmers Market site and said Arden Hills remained the "ideal" stadium location.
Bagley also said that building at the Metrodome -- though supposedly cheaper -- did not include the cost of having the Vikings play at the University of Minnesota's football stadium during construction.
Hennepin County Board chairman Mike Opat, a key player in assembling the public subsidy package for Target Field, has said he prefers the Farmers Market site. He declined Thursday to comment on Bagley's statements.
Chuck Leer, a real estate developer promoting the Farmers Market site, said on Thursday that he and others were working to minimize the site's drawbacks. The changes included, he said, downsizing the site from 34 acres to 24 acres, moving it eastward to higher ground and having it as close as possible to Target Field.
"We think that we can get it as close as 500 feet to Target Field," he said.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673