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Vikings owner Zygi Wilf arrived at a news conference with Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega at the proposed Arden Hills site for a new Vikings stadium.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Arden Hills stadium deal has a possible deadline

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • June 4, 2011 - 9:14 AM

The Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County can end their preliminary agreement to build a $1 billion stadium in Arden Hills on July 1 -- just 27 days from now -- if the Legislature does not approve the project.

With legislative approval by then being far from certain, much will hinge on Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans first finding a solution to the state's $5.1 billion deficit.

Although the overall agreement has several potential outs that would allow the team or the county to walk away from the project, July 1 is one of the few concrete deadlines in the 12-page list of terms made public last month.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author of stadium legislation, acknowledged that while he did not set the deadline "that's a deadline we all have."

But state road officials at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which has been negotiating with the team and county over needed road improvements in Arden Hills, said Friday that they were operating as if "there are no deadlines." Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, who helped broker the deal, said the deadline holds little significance.

"Why would we start from scratch again?" he said. "Nobody's holding a gun to my head. Nobody's holding a gun to [the Vikings'] head.

"If those deadlines come up and somebody says, 'Let's take a walk, and not come back,' that could happen," Bennett acknowledged. "All I can tell you is generally we are in a good position. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."

There were fresh signs on Friday of the hurdles a Vikings stadium faces. Gov. Mark Dayton, along with Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate author of the legislation, sent Vikings owner Zygi Wilf a letter reiterating that the project would not move forward until there was an agreement on how to fund $131 million in state road improvements and further details on the public's role in building and operating the stadium.

Escape clauses

As the Vikings and Ramsey County continue to wrestle with significant obstacles, the agreement gives both parties wide "walk away" rights.

If Dayton "publicly opposes" state financing for the stadium or "other significant elements" of the agreement, including road improvements, the agreement can be voided.

Either Ramsey County or the Vikings could back out if the "timing, terms and costs" of buying the Arden Hills site or cleaning up pollutants on the former military ammunition plant cannot be solved.

Similarly, either side could walk away should financing terms for the county or team not be acceptable. The Vikings can cut themselves loose if the "timing and level of business community support" for the project is not up to their expectations.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for stadium development and public affairs, said the agreement was structured so that Ramsey County and the team would have the ability "to get out of it," but said that "we have no intentions of doing so."

He declined requests to talk about what the Vikings would do once the deadline passed, and also declined to speculate what the team would do if the Legislature passes a state budget before July 1 that does address the stadium. "If we come to that, ask me the question then," said Bagley.

A previous escape

The July 1 deadline is particularly significant in light of the Vikings' recent history. The team struck an earlier, similar agreement with Anoka County to build a new stadium in Blaine but ultimately backed away from the plan and abruptly switched gears, pursuing a site in downtown Minneapolis.

Under the May agreement with Ramsey County, the Vikings would contribute $407 million to the project and the county would raise $350 million, mostly through a countywide sales tax increase. The state would add $300 million. Dayton is insisting that the $131 million in road improvements be counted as part of the state's total contribution.

The proposal has yet to have a hearing at the State Capitol, and it is difficult to determine whether enough legislators would support it.

Dayton said Friday that pushing the project to 2012 would force legislators to cast votes in an election year, making it "more difficult." Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, a House co-author of the stadium legislation, noted that while he too wants the project approved this year, no one who voted for public subsidies for the new Minnesota Twins stadium in 2006 lost their seat because of that vote.

Ramsey County lobbyist Nick Riley said Friday he expects things to start moving quickly. "In the next week or two, we have to have an agreement with legislators and start having informal hearings," he said. No such hearings have been scheduled. "We're awfully close to where we need to be," he said.

Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this article.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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