A view of a proposed Vikings stadium at the Arden Hills site.
Prospect of a convention center shocks stadium watchers
- Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
- Star Tribune
- September 4, 2011 - 2:15 AM
A red circle on a map has become the latest obstacle that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf might have to overcome to win support for his proposed stadium in Arden Hills.
The circle, surrounding 120 acres next to Wilf's planned 260-acre stadium parcel, drew gasps last week at a St. Paul Rotary luncheon when business leaders saw the label imposed on it -- "Potential Convention Center Hotel."
Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, the Vikings' key stadium ally, said that Wilf isn't looking to build a "major" convention center that would compete with those in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Instead, there might be a "medium-sized convention center/hotel" at the stadium site, Bennett said.
"It's just a concept. It may change," he added.
Within a day, Bennett and the Vikings backpedaled, saying the map passed out at the luncheon was out of date.
Team Vice President Lester Bagley, who attended the Rotary lunch and is the architect of the Vikings' stadium effort, now says the convention center idea is dead.
"There are no plans for a convention center. We are entirely focused on the stadium component," Bagley said Friday.
But even the possibility that Wilf entertained ideas for a convention center at what would be a state-subsidized project has left some members of the Twin Cities business and political communities stunned.
In moving the Vikings to Arden Hills, Wilf "not only would ... be taking this business [the NFL franchise] from us," Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson said. "But he'd be taking convention business and using state taxes to do it. Yes, it would be bad.
"I don't know what he's thinking," Johnson said.
Karolyn Kirchgesler, president of Visit St. Paul, said the Twin Cities already is unusual in having two convention centers in the same metro area.
"To add another convention center to the mix would not be prudent from an economic standpoint," she said.
It's long been understood that Wilf, a successful New Jersey real estate developer, was attracted to the Arden Hills site over potential locations in Minneapolis because of the possibility of putting together something more ambitious than just a stadium.
Some have even joked that Wilf's ideas are so grand as to merit the nickname "Zygi World."
The red circled area identified on the map handed out to the Rotary members was just south of the stadium area, at the northeast corner of Hwys. 10 and 96. Another circle to the north of the stadium parcel was labeled "Potential Corporate Campus."
When one Rotary member asked about ancillary development at the site, Wilf said he was focused on the stadium. He then mentioned a possible "mixed use" development on surrounding parcels, including "national chains."
As word of the convention center label spread, Bennett tried to tamp down concerns. "I didn't know that map was still in existence," he said Friday.
No convention center is planned, he said. "Anything's possible, but they've got eight years to decide," he said.
With the Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expiring at the end of this season, the team has been pushing to get state approval for the Arden Hills site.
Wilf has said the new facility would be a "beacon" for the region, but in the past week he has faced backlash over his development ideas and the unwelcome news that the state's top two legislative leaders want a public referendum on the project.
The $1.1 billion stadium project would require Ramsey County to issue $350 million in bonds and pay them off with a 0.5 percent countywide increase in the sales tax. The St. Paul City Council opposes the sales tax increase, as does Mayor Chris Coleman, and it's assumed that the plan would have a hard time surviving Ramsey County voters in a referendum.
The state contribution would be $300 million.
Gov. Mark Dayton has commissioned a comprehensive review of the Arden Hills site, including environmental and traffic issues, that is due Oct. 15. The Metropolitan Council, along with Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale, is leading the review.
No specific plans — for now
Met Council spokeswoman Meredith Salsbery said, "We are working with and have asked the Vikings and Ramsey County for information to ensure we understand the proposal, but that proposal as we understand it does not currently include specific plans for a convention center."
Kirchgesler, who oversees St. Paul's RiverCentre convention center, said the possibility of another convention center a dozen miles north in Arden Hills took her by surprise.
"I did not know they were talking about a convention center," Kirchgesler said. "I'm guessing people are brainstorming and that probably wouldn't be something they would keep."
St. Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry said another convention center would create a zero-sum game for the existing facilities.
"It would be obviously in direct competition with everything we do. ... You're not going to create new business, it's just going to dilute the market," Lantry said.
Coleman said the Vikings site must be viewed from the standpoint of what would most benefit the entire region.
"Any development to this scale must have a regional approach, and, that regional approach would also logically conclude that our region has enough convention centers," Coleman said in a statement.
Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749 Twitter: @rochelleolson
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