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With decision time rapidly approaching for the Minnesota Vikings' Arden Hills stadium plan, a longtime Minneapolis developer says that the Farmers Market site near the Twins ballpark is more viable than ever as an alternative home for a new stadium.
Chuck Leer said that nine of 15 property owners in the Farmers Market area are interested in selling. The remaining owners are discussing sales prospects so that a 34-acre stadium site could be assembled between Interstate 94 and Target Field in the North Loop neighborhood.
"We're hoping that people will see again that this is an excellent site. With this back on the table, maybe we can figure out a way to make this happen," Leer said.
The goal is to consolidate a land sale and make the site an attractive option, said Leer, who is representing the owners in the matter. The site has been vigorously promoted since spring by investor Bruce Lambrecht and planner David Albersman, whose slide presentation has been seen by several business and political leaders.
Leer is being assisted by former Minneapolis City Council president Jackie Cherryhomes, who also represents the interests of some of the owners. "We have an opportunity to do something outstanding. Shame on us if we don't," she said.
The Vikings' vice president of stadium development, Lester Bagley, declined an invitation to meet with Leer and reiterated Friday that the team considers the Ramsey County proposal "the only viable plan on the table. ... We are 100 percent focused on the Arden Hills site."
The team and Ramsey County have agreed to build a $1.1 billion stadium on the 260-acre former Army ammunition plant site, a deal that would be the focus of a special legislative session that Gov. Mark Dayton plans before Thanksgiving.
"Minneapolis has been pretty clear that they're not going to harpoon Arden Hills, but if Arden Hills shouldn't work they'll have a proposal ready to go," said Ted Mondale, chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson will discuss stadium prospects Monday with Dayton, who has kept the door open to Minneapolis even while working with the Vikings on Arden Hills.
Rybak and Johnson prefer an $895 million stadium at the Metrodome, but in the last few weeks have said they're open to the Farmers Market site.
Johnson said that Leer is "trying to mitigate the potential downside of that site, which is multiple owners and unpredictability about the cost of acquiring all those folks. That's a positive step."
Leer said the Farmers Market site makes more sense than Arden Hills in terms of the amenities already there -- transit, parking, bars and restaurants. The Farmers Market, a popular draw, would be incorporated into the stadium complex. But the plan wouldn't touch Sharing and Caring Hands, the charity for the poor and homeless run by Mary Jo Copeland.
The interested owners hold 19 acres, Leer said. If you add 5.3 acres owned by Minneapolis and 2.7 acres of right-of-way, 27 of the 34 acres on the site are available, he said.
Leer is chairman of 2020 Partners, a downtown stakeholders group that recently called on the Vikings to build in Minneapolis. He said 2020 is not involved in his Farmers Market effort.
Scott Barriball, who owns the Farmers Market Annex across the street from the city market, said a new stadium on the site is "an exciting opportunity that ties this part of town together with the ballpark. ... If you have a vision of what a Vikings stadium would look like, with the Farmers Market and light rail, that's a real progressive big-city kind of thing."
The bipartisan legislative duo of liberal John Marty and conservative Linda Runbeck offered another Vikings stadium idea Friday, proposing to give the Metrodome to the team to do with it as it will -- play in it, renovate it or sell it and build a new one on another metro site.
The idea of turning over the Dome to the Vikings is not a new one, and team officials instantly called it "a nonstarter."
Marty, referring to the Vikings rookie just named the starting quarterback Sunday against Green Bay, quipped: "Last week, Christian Ponder was a nonstarter."
Under the proposal, the Vikings would get the Dome for free and sign a 25-year contract to run it. The stadium's assessed value is just under $42 million, but that money would be returned to the public in the form of annual taxes that the team would pay on the property.
The Vikings would replace the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission as the Dome's manager, assuming all operating costs but also keeping revenues from concessions and other non-NFL events.
Marty is a DFL state senator from Roseville and Runbeck is a Republican state representative from Circle Pines. Both represent constituents in Ramsey County, which under the Arden Hills plan would impose a half-percent sales tax on residents.
"Why should taxpayers be asked to support a duplicate [stadium]?" Runbeck said. "We want the Vikings to stay here, but a more modest proposal will be better all the way around."
Staff writer Mike Kaszuba contributed to this story.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455