Ramsey Co. outhustled Mpls. in bid for stadium

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 11, 2011 - 11:42 AM

Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega put together a plan while other city leaders sat on their hands.

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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.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Bruce Lambrecht is a real estate developer. He championed his 8.5-acre parking lot behind Target Center as the location for the Twins' new stadium. Building over freeways and acquiring railroad land allowed the Twins to add enough acreage to build a splendid urban ballpark.

Last week, Lambrecht was showing off a study he commissioned that rated the Farmers Market site ahead of the Metrodome site in nine of 10 key categories for the construction of a new Vikings stadium.

It was an impressive presentation by urban planner David Albersman -- a football stadium sitting on 43 acres only a couple of blocks from Target Field. Certainly, a domed facility next to the outdoor ballpark would bring unprecedented life to downtown Minneapolis.

The Farmers Market site also was alleged to be favored by Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat, the man who had the political nerve to lead the charge for a Twins ballpark. Last week, Opat said the county would stay on the sideline for Minnesota's latest stadium wrangle.

One reason might have been the unwillingness of the city of Minneapolis to take a serious look at the Farmers Market site as an alternative location.

Without Hennepin County to bail it out this time, Minneapolis came up with a haphazard proposal that didn't come close to satisfying the Vikings' desires. It was announced Monday and basically scoffed at by the team.

On Tuesday, the Vikings came with the deal that politicians and pundits have been ordering them to deliver for years: They came with a large financial commitment from ownership and with a fully engaged local partner.

The team announced an agreement with Ramsey County that should cast commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega as heroic for Vikings fans in the way Opat and three other "yes" voters were to those civilians who thought it was vital to keep Major League Baseball in Minnesota.

Actually, it might be taking even more guts for Bennett and Ortega, since they are standing behind a half-cent sales tax for Ramsey County -- compared to Hennepin County's 0.15 percent -- to bring the Vikings to that former munitions plant site in Arden Hills.

We know Arden Hills does not fit the dream of the transit crowd. Currently, those dreamers are busy spending scores of millions to turn University Avenue into a modern version of post-war East Berlin, all in the name of a choo-choo from downtown St. Paul hooking up with the Hiawatha Line in downtown Minneapolis.

One vestige of previous construction is a large train station in front of the Metrodome. Another is the hub serving Target Field. Thus, the transit crowd could live with either a new Metrodome or the Farmers Market site, to offer impressive ridership numbers on Sundays in the fall and early winter.

Now what?

Come 2015, not long after the St. Paul-Minneapolis hookup is complete, the transit crowd will have to admit that it previously was delivering several thousand Vikings fans by train, and now, after spending those scores of millions tearing up University Avenue, it is delivering zero Vikings fans by train.

This departure from the transit crowd's vision is not the fault of the Vikings.

A few years back, the Vikings stepped away from a deal with Anoka County. They embraced the Metrodome area as the place for a new stadium. They went to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the city of Minneapolis and state and said:

"We'll concede dang near all the parking revenue. We'll stay right here, next to your train station. Let's do this."

There was an architectural study from the commission, and that was it. No financial plan. Silence from the city and the state.

The political leaders in Minneapolis were occupied with other matters, such as moving up in the ratings for "Most Bicycle Friendly City in America."

Five years earlier, Minneapolis didn't show a pulse as Hennepin County was saving the Twins and providing the city with a spectacular asset in Target Field. And now the city's political followers expected to sit on their dead rears and to be bailed out again -- by some unknown force -- with the Vikings.

There was no rescue this time.

Meanwhile, Bennett and Ortega were hustling, selling, negotiating, and came with a deal the Vikings were able to embrace enthusiastically on Tuesday.

Congratulations to Ramsey County. It deserves to be home to Minnesota's most popular sports franchise.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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