Taking advantage of the stalled plans to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, the proposal to instead build the project in Ramsey County’s Arden Hills was dusted off late Wednesday.
A group of DFL and Republican legislators unveiled what would be the fourth funding proposal for an Arden Hills stadium – this time calling for a suburban Ramsey County food and beverage tax that would be subject to a voter referendum in November.
“We’re still alive. We’re still around,” said Ramsey County Board Chair Rafael Ortega.
Coming on a day when no Vikings stadium proposal seemed to have traction at the state Capitol, the Arden Hills announcement was the latest plan as legislators and stadium supporters rushed forward with a variety of ideas in hopes that one of them would suddenly gain support.
A spokesman for Gov. Mark Dayton meanwhile said Wednesday that the governor had a "sobering conversation" with National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell on the status of a public subsidy package for a new Vikings stadium, and that Dayton would talk again with NFL officials on Thursday.
The Vikings had last year agreed with Ramsey County to build a $1.1 billion stadium at a former ammunition plan in Arden Hills, but agreed to switch to Minneapolis when Dayton said that the only way to get a stadium public subsidy package passed at the Legislature this spring would be to build the project in the state’s largest city.
Now, with the Minneapolis stadium plan in limbo, some legislators said Wednesday said they want a revised version of the Arden Hills project back in play and said there was still time before the Legislature adjourns to make it happen.
Ortega said the referendum idea – which is a new feature of the plan – could also pass. “It could be close, [but] we feel we could win a referendum in Ramsey County,” he said Wednesday.
The lawyer who represented many of the victims of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse said he would “think twice” about giving the bridge’s state consultant -- URS Corp. -- more state business.
Chris Messerly, an attorney for many of the victims of the 2007 tragedy, made his comments in response to a report that the Metropolitan Council is considering giving URS a major contract for the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail line in the Twin Cities.
“You kind of have to think twice as to why the state would hire them yet again given their track record in our state,” he said. “We uncovered a lot of issues that were extremely troubling to us” regarding the 35W bridge collapse.
“This wasn’t in our view just a negligent actor. It was someone who deliberately disregarded the public safety,” said Messerly.
“Maybe they’ve remedied all those problems – I don’t know,” he added. “But, certainly, if someone’s going to hire them they better look to see if URS has fixed their problems that led to the I-35W bridge collapsing.”
The San Francisco-based URS was a state consultant on the 35W bridge before it collapsed, and paid $52.4 million in 2010 to settle a lawsuit brought for killed and injured motorists who were on the bridge when it fell.
A URS spokesman said the company was only a consultant to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and that the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the collapse was due to a decades-old design flaw compounded by extra weight on the bridge.
URS spokesman Ronald Low said the company’s team for the light rail contract was “uniquely qualified.” He added: “We strongly disagree with the issues that were raised.”
The Met Council has acknowledged that URS is on a short list of contractors for a preliminary and final engineering contract that would span six years at a cost of between $90 million and $100 million.
While he was running for governor in 2010, Gov. Mark Dayton said he was “just outraged” by documents showing URS' conduct prior to the bridge collapse. Dayton at the time said that, if elected, he would issue an executive order barring URS from receiving state contracts at least until lawsuits regarding the bridge collapse were settled.
Dayton however said last week he was still troubled by URS’ possible hiring. “The governor has very strong concerns about the state doing business with URS, and has expressed those concerns to [Met Council chair] Susan Haigh as well,” said Dayton spokesperson Katharine Tinucci.
The chief House author for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium outlined a roadmap Wednesday for approval at the state Capitol – setting up a tight and politically dicey time table for a major piece of legislation.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author, said the stadium legislation would now likely not be introduced until Monday, five days before the first deadline at the state Capitol for proposals to pass through a committee. The legislation would be introduced Monday, he said, “unless something comes up that delays it.”
The timing is now critical because Republican leaders, who control both the House and Senate, have talked about adjourning in late April.
Lanning acknowledged that many may be surprised that legislation still had not been formally introduced at the state Capitol, even though a week had passed since Gov. Mark Dayton, the city of Minneapolis and the Vikings announced they had reached a tentative agreement to build the $975 million stadium.
“It was natural for people to think that when [we had] this big announcement last Thursday everything was all set to go and deal was done,” he said. “But, you know, we only had a framework. We had terms of agreement. We had a term sheet.
“We have to turn that into language across the board and, yes, we’ve been working on language for months. But until you know what the final terms are, you can’t finish that language,” said Lanning.
Lanning however said there was still time to win approval, and said the proposal would likely move through four committees in the House – the plan would face a separate path in the Senate.
He said the proposal would first be heard by the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. He said he felt the 22-member panel, chaired by Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, contained legislators who were “open and favorable” to the stadium proposal.
“I think it’s still quite possible for us to do [this],” he said of passing the stadium legislation this spring. “Are we on a tight schedule? Absolutely.
“I think it’s possible for us to get through a policy committee next week,” he added. “Will we be able to meet committee deadlines the way we’d like to? That’s yet to be determined.”