Pledge moving Vikings stadium closer to reality

Ted Mondale says the team knows it needs to pay about 40 percent of the project, but the Vikings stayed silent. Talks bounced between Ramsey County and Minneapolis.

Gov. Mark Dayton's chief negotiator for a new Vikings stadium said Friday that the team -- which spent the day in separate talks with Ramsey County and Minneapolis -- is pushing ahead knowing they will have to pay roughly 40 percent of the project.

The comments by Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, came on a day of multiple secret meetings that led to no major breakthroughs. But, Mondale said, at least one proposal by a local government to join the Vikings financially will be announced next week.

Despite earlier reports that a stadium deal was close to being struck, Friday's events underscored the still substantial hurdles any plan will face as the Legislature creeps closer to its scheduled May 23 adjournment.

The Vikings' higher financial pledge -- which the team would not confirm or deny on Friday -- would push the team closer to what Dayton has insisted, and also what many legislators have said is necessary for the proposal to have any chance.

"The number's going to be a lot higher than people have thought," Mondale said of the Vikings' contribution. "It's somewhere in the 40s -- 40 percent.

"They know that's where they need to be to make it work," he added. "So, they've been running around town for the last three days [and] they appear to be" accepting that the Vikings need to pay far more than a third of the project in order to partner with both the state and either Minneapolis or Ramsey County.

NFL meetings

On the day after Hennepin County announced that the state's most populous county had pulled itself out of the running, Ramsey County and Minneapolis officials met separately on Friday with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and Neil Glat, a top National Football League adviser on stadium finances. But officials involved with the Ramsey County proposal in Arden Hills said it remains plagued by "complicated" issues that involve road upgrades needed for the project.

The meetings came on the heels of a Thursday evening meeting between Wilf and Dayton at the governor's residence. Dayton said Wilf talked "very impressively" of the Ramsey County proposal. The governor said he urged the Vikings to get the project "narrowed down to one site as soon as possible."

Ramsey County commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega, who earlier said they were close to striking a deal with the Vikings, said improvements to nearby Interstate 694 and 35W are a crucial element. But, they said, there are differing opinions on whether the state, the county or the team would bear the costs.

"We made some agreements, and we made [up] some ground," Bennett said of Friday's private talks with the Vikings, which stretched through the afternoon at St. Paul's University Club.

Officials say the road infrastructure costs had been cut significantly from the original $240 million estimate; Mondale said they were close to halved. But the Vikings said the costs remain a problem.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president for stadium development and public affairs, backed away from saying the team and county were "very close" to an agreement. "That's in the eye of the beholder," he said. "We're still working at it." He said the Vikings' contribution would be "significant" but, as in the past, declined on Friday to be more specific.

Minneapolis is scrambling

Ramsey County's negotiations took place as two other key players -- the county's legislative delegation and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman -- stayed on the sidelines, or were openly critical of a plan that would likely attempt to raise the county's sales taxes without a citizens' referendum to help build a Vikings stadium.

"This small group of people, against the best interests of everyone who lives in Ramsey County" was moving ahead with a plan to raise taxes to build a stadium, said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.

Coleman has taken no position on the tax and has not been part of stadium discussions. His spokesman, Richard Carlbom, said late Friday the mayor has not been briefed on its details.

In Minneapolis, where city officials seemed to be scrambling to match the momentum in Ramsey County, the problems were no less complicated.

City officials said some potential avenues were hurriedly being explored, including whether some of the city's special sales and hospitality taxes could be freed for a stadium. A local share of $300 million would cost the city about $20 million annually if the stadium were financed with 25-year tax-exempt bonds at 4.5 percent interest. That would drop to about $13 million if a cheaper stadium requiring a $200 million local share is built.

City Council President Barbara Johnson said she expects the city to make an offer next week. "We want to keep the Vikings in Minneapolis," she said.

At the State Capitol, Sen. Joe Gimse, the Republican chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he was optimistic following a meeting Thursday on road infrastructure issues at Ramsey County's Arden Hills property. But Gimse sidestepped whether his Republican colleagues -- who have insisted that the state's $5.1 billion budget deficit be solved first without tax increases -- would support helping the Vikings build a new stadium.

"We'll have to see what the proposal ends up being," he said.

Staff writers Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Steve Brandt contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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