Ramsey County reaches deal on Arden Hills site

Ramsey County commissioners on Thursday announced a tentative deal to buy the proposed Vikings stadium site in Arden Hills from the federal government, giving that plan a much-needed boost -- if the money can be found to do it.

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The Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Ramsey County commissioners on Thursday announced a tentative deal to buy the proposed Vikings stadium site in Arden Hills from the federal government, giving that plan a much-needed boost -- if the money can be found to do it.

Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega sent letters to Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders saying that the price won't top the budgeted $30 million for the property, including pollution cleanup. They said that "should alleviate concerns" about unknown acquisition and remediation costs.

Ortega said that the price is $28.5 million and that the county has until Aug. 1, 2012, to cancel the deal without paying a penalty if the $1.1 billion stadium deal doesn't happen. With or without a stadium, he said, the site is a smart purchase since Ramsey County can deduct the costs of demolition and cleanup from the price. "This is about cleaning up the largest Superfund site [in Minnesota], about infrastructure, about bringing jobs," he said. "We have now gained site control, and we hope we have a willing tenant in the Vikings."

There's still the question of how to pay for it. The Vikings have committed to paying $407 million for an Arden Hills stadium, leaving the state with a $650 million share -- presumably including the $28.5 million for the property.

Dayton last week ruled out a countywide half-cent sales tax as a Ramsey County funding source, and speculation on replacement funding has turned to some form of new gambling. None of that has been settled.

Nevertheless, Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president of stadium development, hailed the agreement as "the basis for a deal that closes up the uncertainty on the acquisition ... We hope this moves the stadium deal to Arden Hills one step closer."

The team and Ramsey County reached an agreement to work on an Arden Hills stadium in May, and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf on Thursday reiterated the team's preference for the east metro site.

Wilf told the Associated Press that the team's pledged contribution of $407 million toward Arden Hills would be considerably less if a stadium is built elsewhere. "Any other location besides Arden Hills wouldn't justify near that level of commitment," he said.

The 430-acre site at the northeast corner of Hwys. 10 and 96 is the biggest chunk of undeveloped land in the Twin Cities.

Board to take up deal

Under the agreement, the federal government would be liable for cleaning the soil of the World War II-era ammunition plant up to industrial standards. The demolition and cleanup costs would be deducted from the county's purchase price.

The Ramsey County Board is expected to consider the deal on Tuesday. County Board Chair Victoria Reinhardt said she supported the proposal -- contingent on state financing -- as a way to clean up the site, protect a wildlife corridor and spur economic development.

"I'm supporting this with or without the stadium," she said.

Other commissioners were either unavailable for comment or said they hadn't seen the report. Regardless of what happens with the board, however, nobody will be turning dirt in Arden Hills soon.

As part of the Arden Hills purchase, the commissioners said they had obtained a "fixed-price quote" for cleanup from a local contractor. The contractor would assume liability for unknown environmental conditions, the letter said, and be required to have the site ready for construction within nine months.

Bennett and Ortega say their agreement removes obstacles to development of the Arden Hills site and puts the project on the path toward a stadium opening in 2015. The expectation is that Wilf would acquire 260 acres of the site for a stadium, with the option to develop 120 surrounding acres for hotels, housing or shopping.

Private meetings held

The county worked out the land deal in closed-door discussions with representatives from the Vikings, the federal General Services Administration (GSA) and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum's office. The GSA owns the site; McCollum's office generally participates in negotiations between local officials in her congressional district and the federal government.

Documents circulating in County Board chambers show potential non-stadium developments on the site, should a stadium wind up being built in Minneapolis or another place instead of Arden Hills.

Both Dayton and his stadium point-man, Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chair Ted Mondale, declined to comment on the letter.

The governor, legislative leaders and the Vikings have been meeting sporadically in private for weeks without reaching agreement on a financing package, special session to consider a stadium bill or the location of the new facility.

raolson@startribune.com • 651-925-5035

kduchschere@startribune.com 612-673-4455

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