Ramsey, Washington, Anoka pursue Vikings, stadium

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2010 - 3:59 PM

The three counties have been discussing a joint proposal to build a new home for the team at the long-abandoned Arden Hills munitions site.

The Minnesota Vikings have been privately wooed by a trio of counties regarding a new football stadium: Ramsey, Washington and Anoka have been discussing a joint proposal to build a new home for the team at the long-abandoned Arden Hills munitions site.

Talks began over the summer, out of the public eye, and have included preliminary discussions on using liquor taxes and possibly racino money to help with public funding.

One intriguing element, according to those involved, would put Anoka and Washington counties in the politically unusual position of contributing financially to a project that would not be in either county. The sprawling 430-acre parcel, near both counties along Interstate 35W and Hwy. 10, lies entirely in Ramsey County.

Team officials insist they will not renew the lease at the Metrodome, where the Vikings have played for 28 years. The team is now conducting an in-depth analysis that is believed to include the Metrodome property, two other undisclosed Minneapolis sites and another suburban location.

Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said on Thursday that the team has toured the Arden Hills property and had met with officials from the three counties. But he would not confirm whether Arden Hills was among the properties the team was now "drilling down" on.

"We looked at it," Bagley said. But "just because a site is, you know, a number of acres, and accessible and close to [the] downtown business core, that's [only] part of the equation. ... We have to find a way to finance the facility."

Though meetings among the three counties have stalled, Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett said on Thursday that he is pushing the proposal.

"People are still talking," said Bennett, who led the summer meetings. Bennett said the participants were, in part, awaiting a resolution of the disputed governor's race between DFLer Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer.

Problems aplenty

Those who participated in the discussions, including Anoka County Board Chairman Dennis Berg, say however that the proposal is fraught with problems.

Berg said the Vikings, who sent an official from owner Zygi Wilf's real estate operation to the meetings, would not commit to guaranteeing that the team would pay a minimum amount of property taxes in exchange for public subsidies.

Berg also noted that last month's elections in Anoka County, which had its own Vikings stadium proposal four years ago, had significantly altered the County Board's political balance, lessening support for any stadium plan.

Dennis Hegberg, a Washington County commissioner who attended the meetings, said the participants were stymied by a problem that has halted other stadium attempts: piecing together a complicated financial deal that uses public subsidies without the economic muscle of the state or Hennepin County, the most populous in Minnesota. "We couldn't figure out a way to put anything together," Hegberg said.

Though key state officials have talked vaguely for years of helping the Vikings, there has been no agreement on financing and the state continues to face a crushing budget deficit. Hennepin County, which agreed to raise its county sales tax to help fund the new Minnesota Twins stadium, has not indicated it would join any effort for a new Vikings stadium.

Scrambling for a solution

The Arden Hills meetings however do show that as the Vikings' lease nears expiration, team and public officials continue to maneuver behind the scenes to find a stadium solution as the Legislature prepares to convene in January.

Acknowledging their proposal's many obstacles, officials from the three counties, however, say the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant remains an intriguing property.

Owned by the U.S. Army, it is being offered for sale by the federal General Services Administration. A sealed bid process will be used to select a buyer and that process should begin next year.

Hegberg said the Vikings have also cautioned the counties that the property is in the Twin Cities' northern suburbs, while much of the team's ticket base lives in western and southern suburbs.

Steve Novak, an Anoka County official who helped lead the county's previous stadium efforts, said he also attended the meetings. "It is a good site," he said. "It's always been a site that could handle, under the right circumstances, I guess, what you'd call a 'megaproject.'"

Novak and Berg say that convincing a county's taxpayers to financially participate in a project not located in the county could be difficult.

"We'd have to see some clear and defined value" for Anoka County's taxpayers, said Berg, "other than it's close to our border and there's some potential ... economic development.

"We need a regional partner," he added. "This is too big for, you know, counties the size of Ramsey or Anoka to handle alone."

The ammunition facility has long been prized as a redevelopment target, but the property's size and lingering pollution issues have presented development challenges. The Army is required to clean the land to a level acceptable for industrial use.

Bennett said parking lots and a stadium could be put on the property, cutting remediation costs. Land not used for the stadium and parking, he said, could be used for other development, such as hotels.

"There are a lot of financing options," Bennett said.

mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-222-1673 chavens@startribune.com • 651-298-1552

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