Ramsey County stays in Vikings stadium hunt

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 20, 2012 - 10:37 PM

County leaders will wait to see what happens with Minneapolis stadium sites but won't just walk away.

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Ramsey County Commissioners Rafael Ortega and Tony Bennett earlier this month.

Photo: David Denney, Star Tribune

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Even though an analysis this week by Gov. Mark Dayton put the Minnesota Vikings stadium site in Arden Hills on the disabled list, Ramsey County officials say they're waiting on the sideline and ready to reenter the stadium fray when called.

As negotiators turn their focus to potential Minneapolis sites, the county and Vikings officials plan to stand firm on their $1.1 billion proposal and see what shakes out when the Legislature convenes next week.

"It's time for the state to sit down and figure out what kind of funding source they're going to use," said Tony Bennett, Ramsey County commissioner. If that source is electronic pulltabs, racino or another form of gambling, "Our site should definitely be in the mix," he said. "We're ready to go in the ground. We've got time schedules and everything."

Ramsey County Board Chairman Rafael Ortega said: "There's nothing more for us to do. ... We'll see where they go from here."

In May, the county and the Vikings announced an agreement for a stadium on a former munitions site. Until recently the site was at the center of discussions, but on Wednesday Dayton nudged it down the list behind two Minneapolis options -- the Metrodome and, his preference, Linden Avenue.

The governor didn't wipe the Arden Hills site off the drawing board, but he outlined its problems. Dayton said three questions must be answered: Will the Legislature allow a Ramsey County sales tax increase? Does the county have other financing plans? Will the Vikings donate $700 million to pay for the project?

"If the answers to those three questions are no, the Ramsey County site is not viable," Dayton said.

The Republican-led Legislature has insisted on a county-wide referendum for a sales-tax increase. It is widely presumed a referendum will fail and the county does not now have other financing ideas.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said $700 million isn't an option.

"The Arden Hills site would generate a team/private contribution of $425 million plus $20 million a year in operating costs. That's already a heavy lift," Bagley said.

The county initially proposed increasing the sales tax by a half-cent to support the issuance of $350 million in bonds for the stadium. Then, in a 148-page proposal a week ago, the county proposed imposing a 3 percent food-and-beverage tax to pay for a $375 million contribution. Legislators liked neither -- but things can change.

"If they can get a food-and-beverage tax passed through the Legislature, then they're a highly viable site," said Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. "But it doesn't appear the Republican majority has any interest in passing a tax for any kind of general purpose."

Dayton said, "They've been consistent, they've been clear and they have a workable plan, except for the Legislature."

Ramsey County is staying in the hunt because officials believe it is possible there are deal-busting pitfalls at the Minneapolis sites, too.

"The governor in a sense eliminates all the sites because they all have problems. Well, what else is new?" Ortega asked.

Ramsey County lobbyist Nick Riley said he believes stadium plans are "miles away" from fruition and emphasized: "All that needs to happen is the Legislature allow Ramsey County to implement the tax and this whole thing can happen."

Bagley said the Vikings still favor Ramsey County. "Arden Hills remains the best site for the future of the Vikings," he said.

Even if the Vikings don't land there, the county could end up with a consolation prize. Dayton said Friday the state should contribute $30 million in the bonding bill to clean up the site and get it redeveloped.

"It is just a fabulous piece of property potentially," Dayton said.

And there also is the prospect that no one will agree on a stadium plan in the session, which starts Tuesday.

"I hope this doesn't happen but it is a genuine possibility ... the [stadium] decision is postponed until 2013, as some would prefer. Then there would be an option for Ramsey County to put one or both of those [tax] proposals on the ballot next November and see if people support it or not," the governor said

Noting the state of the project now, Riley called it "very likely" nothing would pass in 2012. He continued the governor's metaphor from earlier in the week, "We might be on the five-yard line, but you've got to score and a field goal won't win it."

Mondale said he expects next week to be "exciting" as work intensifies.

"At some point, as they say in the South, you've got to get to the lick-log and get a financing plan that works for the state, the [local partner] and the team," Mondale said. "We can't dance around this campfire forever."

Staff writer Rachel Stassen-Berger contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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