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Ramsey County decided Tuesday to join the lineup of players scrambling for a Minnesota Vikings stadium by agreeing to study an Arden Hills site even as officials from Minneapolis said their Metrodome site "has the most to offer."
On a 6-1 vote that made no mention of financing mechanisms or spending limits, the Ramsey County commissioners agreed to determine if the former Army ammunition plant would benefit taxpayers or meet the team's needs.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the Arden Hills site is a viable contender. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, in a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders, shot down all other sites but the Metrodome. The Vikings also are believed to be looking at two other sites -- one near Target Field and one near the Target Corp. campus in Brooklyn Park.
For Ramsey County, the resolution provides a ticket into discussions about a stadium with Dayton, the Vikings and the Legislature, which is expected to see stadium bills in the next couple of weeks.
Commissioners Rafael Ortega and Tony Bennett proposed the Ramsey County resolution and touted economic benefits. Ortega called the study decision a show of "leadership and vision." Meetings start Wednesday to discuss additional roads and infrastructure upgrades that would be needed at the site. Environmental assessments of soil contamination will be done. The county's due diligence also means proposing funding sources of a new stadium.
Before the vote, however, several state legislators from Ramsey County signed a letter to the board opposing not just the use of sales taxes, but the discussion itself.
"In a year when we will be making drastic cuts in virtually every area, it seems foolhardy to be sending signals that we are willing partners with the Vikings," wrote Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the lead drafter.
As the Vikings looked east, Rybak and Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson sent the letter. "We recognize that the Minnesota Vikings play an important role in our state, and we want their continued success right here in Minneapolis at a site that makes economic sense -- the existing Metrodome," it read.
Bagley said the Metrodome site may have lower infrastucture costs than the Arden Hills site, but choosing the Dome site would mean playing at TCF Stadium for three years. That would cost the team money and create a "revenue issue that would need to be addressed," he said.
Money for the study itself was a concern for Ramsey County Board Member Janice Rettman. She held up a Brett Favre Vikings jersey and noted her fondness for Vikings players Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen before casting the lone vote against the resolution.
She said stadiums don't pay property taxes. She said her wariness of sports facilities and teams has been heightened by the Minnesota Wild hockey team seeking forgiveness on millions in debt for the Xcel Energy Center. "That was not part of the deal," Rettman said of the Wild.
Anoka spending recalled
She suggested a limit on the amount of money the county would spend on the Arden Hills site study, citing about $1 million that Anoka County spent in a failed pursuit of the Vikings a few years ago. "Is this the way we want to spend our precious few dollars?" she asked.
Bennett and Ortega pushed the proposal as an opportunity that won't come again for decades. Only property taxes are off the table as a funding source, both said.
After the meeting, speaking to reporters, Bagley said the team remains open and isn't trying to leverage Ramsey County against other locations. "We love the site," he said. "It's 10 miles from the Metrodome. It's about the same from downtown St. Paul. It's right on three-lane I-35W."
Despite the lopsided vote, Ramsey County commissioners said future "yes" votes would require more information about a proposal.
"What it comes down to is doing our homework and making decisions," Board Chair Victoria Reinhardt said.
Said Board Member Toni Carter: "We are not interested in buying a stadium; we're interested in the development of Ramsey County."
As Reinhardt began roll call on the resolution, East Side resident Greg Copeland stood up in the audience and loudly called out for a chance for public comment. Reinhardt didn't stop the roll. "This is the kind of government you get when the twins are calling the shots," he yelled, later explaining he meant Bennett and Ortega when he referred to "twins."
Copeland, chairman of the St. Paul Republican City Committee, later said he would push for a charter vote. "The last thing we need is a billionaire from New Jersey coming to us and asking for money," he said after the board meeting. "We are not the suckers at the Hennepin County Board."
Hennepin County financed the Minnesota Twins ballpark with a sales-tax increase.
Bennett and Ortega say there is no time for a referendum because the Vikings want to be in a new stadium in 2015. They said they could instead seek authority from the Legislature to impose a sales tax increase as Hennepin County did.
The team's lease at the Metrodome, which has a damaged roof, expires at the end of the 2011 season.
Staff writers Kevin Duchschere and Judd Zulgad contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747