State not rushing to act on Vikings stadium

Their bids in, Minneapolis and Ramsey County battle for votes. Legislators see no hurry.

Minneapolis and Ramsey County touted the advantages Thursday of their competing plans to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium amid signs that key legislators want to slow down the rush to quickly approve the project.

By 5 p.m. -- the deadline set by Gov. Mark Dayton -- at least four stadium plans had landed on his desk. The day's feverish stadium drama was capped by a Vikings spokesman saying the team preferred building in Arden Hills, believed a new Metrodome stadium was "workable" and declined to guarantee whether it would play in Minnesota next season.

Dayton said Thursday he would review the proposals and may offer his opinion next week.

Meanwhile, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate stadium author, and others indicated Thursday that legislators may now throttle back the stadium's frenzied pace. She said choosing a stadium site and introducing a stadium bill may not happen before the Legislature convenes on Jan. 24.

"We may wait to just to make sure that we have all the figures right and everything's going forward," said Rosen, who earlier had pushed for a speedy stadium vote.

The two front-running proposals from Ramsey County and Minneapolis featured the same advantages and flaws displayed by the plans for months. Last-minute proposals also were submitted by Shakopee and for a site in Bloomington.

'It's time to get real'

Minneapolis' plan would contribute more than $300 million to a new $918 million stadium at the site of the Metrodome. It would funnel $150 million of existing taxes for construction and $6.5 million annually over 30 years for the stadium's operation and upkeep. But the plan does not address how the city would bypass a charter provision that caps sports facility spending at $10 million or show that it has enough City Council votes to be adopted.

Ramsey County officials, submitting a hefty 148-page document to the governor, said the Arden Hills property has had more analysis than any other location. But they acknowledged that the county's share of the $1.1 billion project, which they increased to $375 million, relies on legislative backing for a local 3 percent food and beverage tax that appears to lack political support.

Ramsey County Board Chairman Rafael Ortega, at one point, chided the Minneapolis proposal for its brevity. "It's time to get real," Ortega said. "A four-page proposal [for] three sites? We have one site, and we have purchase agreements. We have timelines."

Minneapolis officials prefer the Metrodome for a new stadium, but have also discussed a location near the Basilica of St. Mary and a third site near the Minnesota Twins' Target Field.

Ortega and Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett say they know their plan still has drawbacks. But they pointed out the Legislature has granted similar approvals for food and beverage tax increases to 29 cities and counties since 1981.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city's proposal was the "only plan that puts significant dollars on the table without raising new taxes."

But in a sign of the fight Rybak faces in winning City Council approval, Council Member Lisa Goodman said the plan is tilted too heavily in the Vikings' financial favor.

"A mass majority of the money is going to the Vikings," she said. The plan's attempt to also restructure debt for the city-owned Target Center and Convention Center, plus provide property tax relief, amounted to "fighting for the crumbs," she said.

Stadium's fate unclear

With less than two weeks before the legislative session opens, lawmakers say the stadium's political fortunes are murky.

"I think there may be some more time left," before legislators vote on a stadium, said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove. "I'm not so sure that the prospect of pushing a Vikings stadium along at this moment is as critical as proponents would want you to think."

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Thursday it was "not my job" to secure votes for a new Vikings stadium. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said that the project "probably deserves a vote." But even Thissen said he saw no reason to rush to an early vote.

Others felt more urgency. Rep. Greg Davids, the House Taxes Committee chair, said he does not want the Vikings to leave Minnesota, and he pledged a swift, thorough hearing before his panel. "I am not going to play any games," said Davids, R-Preston.

Davids said that while the Arden Hills and Shakopee plans were appealing, the Minneapolis proposal had an advantage in financing options, existing infrastructure and other amenities.

"I think the only people who don't realize the stadium is going to be in downtown Minneapolis are the Minnesota Vikings," Davids said.

Ramsey County Commissioner Jan Parker said she believed there was a bias toward building the stadium in Minneapolis, and she specifically criticized the Star Tribune. Parker said she thought the newspaper was skewing its coverage in favor of the Metrodome site because it holds land nearby. "I'm just appalled at the lack of objectivity," she said.

The Star Tribune owns five blocks near the Metrodome that could be involved in a stadium deal. The Vikings struck a tentative $45 million deal for that property in 2007 but withdrew, citing turmoil in credit markets.

At a brief news conference outside the governor's office, county officials were asked repeatedly Thursday whether they felt there was a "bias" in favor of Minneapolis. "We don't feel there's been any bias," Ortega said.

Staff writers Rochelle Olson, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, Kevin Duchschere and Baird Helgeson contributed to this report. mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-222-1673 eroper@startribune.com • 612-673-1732

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