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Gov. Mark Dayton told the Minnesota Vikings on Monday that the only workable site this year for a new stadium is the Metrodome, apparently bringing the team's long search for a new home back to where it started.
"The governor spoke to Mr. Zygi Wilf this afternoon and told him that if we are going to get a stadium bill passed this year, it will have to be at the Metrodome site," said the governor's spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci.
She said Wilf, the team's owner, will come to Minnesota on Wednesday, the day after the 2012 legislative session begins, to meet with Dayton.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team is upset by the news, which came just the team appeared to be shifting from its preferred site in Arden Hills to the so-called Linden Avenue location near the Minneapolis' Basilica of St. Mary.
"We were told by the governor's office that Linden Avenue is not workable, at least in the short term," said Bagley, the team's vice president of public affairs and stadium development. "All I can tell you is that our ownership is extremely frustrated with the situation." The basilica's rector, the Rev. John Bauer, made clear in recent days that he might consider legal action to protect the 100-year-old structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dayton's decision comes days after he said that the Metrodome, Linden Avenue and Arden Hills sites all had flaws and that it was a "genuine possibility" no stadium agreement would be reached at the Legislature this year.
The state's 201 legislators return to St. Paul this week and Republicans, who control the House and the Senate, have been ambivalent about the urgency in reaching a stadium deal this year, even though the Vikings say their lease at the Metrodome expires on Feb. 1.
The team says the Metrodome site does not provide as good a "game day" experience as other potential sites would and noted that the team would lose money if it is required to play at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank stadium while the Metrodome is rebuilt. The Vikings have said there would be at least $50 million in additional costs.
Teresa McFarland, a basilica spokeswoman, said the church had not received confirmation that the governor was dropping the Linden Avenue site and said the church wouldn't comment.
When Dayton met with Bauer on Friday, stadium negotiators were already working to solve some of the problems associated with the site.
Ted Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, said lawyers were attempting to get around a requirement that nine City Council votes in Minneapolis would be needed to sell city land near the basilica for the project. He said a new legal opinion obtained for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission argued that only seven votes would be required because the city would be selling the property to another public entity. Mondale is the chair of the commission.
Last Wednesday, Dayton said the Linden Avenue site might be the right spot for a stadium. But before meeting with Bauer on Friday, he expressed reservations.
"We all want to look at what their objections are and see whether they could be resolved or not. I'm not full-steam ahead ... I'm not prepared to recommend that site. I don't consider it viable as it stands today. There may be other unanswered questions," Dayton said.
Minneapolis officials, including Mayor R.T. Rybak, have said that rebuilding the Metrodome would be easier to approve in the council than building at the Linden Avenue location.
Minneapolis City Council Member Meg Tuthill on Monday called the Linden site "totally unacceptable" because of potential harm to the basilica and the need to relocate some businesses.
"I just can't imagine that we would build a stadium there for a multitude of reasons," Tuthill said. "So I'm very pleased to hear it's off the table." Tuthill is one of three council members who are undecided about the mayor's proposed funding plan for the stadium. "Putting it in the Metrodome is the only thing that makes sense," Tuthill said. "Now we have to look at the rest of the plan and see what we can come up with."
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.
The Vikings also negotiated an agreement with Ramsey County last year to build on the old Army ammunition site in Arden Hills, which the team said was an "ideal" home. But Ramsey County's proposed financing idea -- a local sales tax -- would likely fail at the polls and key lawmakers said they would not approve the tax without a referendum. Another possible site at the Farmers Market in Minneapolis also failed to come together, leaving just Linden Avenue and the Metrodome, where the team has played since 1982.