Hartman: Wilf is going all-out on Arden Hills plan

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2011 - 6:47 AM

The Vikings owner clearly favors the Ramsey County proposal to any stadium site in downtown Minneapolis.

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Vikings owner Zygi Wilf

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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If anybody was doubtful that Zygi Wilf and the Vikings were serious about their announcement of Arden Hills being their No. 1 and only choice for the site of a new stadium, they should have been at Winter Park on Wednesday.

In one room, Vikings officials were involved in contract talks with Ramsey County to bring the proposed $1 billion facility to Arden Hills. And in anther room, representatives of Minnesota Department of Transportation and traffic experts were discussing ways to solve the potential jams around the 260-acre former munitions plant.

"I don't look at the fact of one site or the other," Wilf said. "This is the best site, this is the most exciting site, this answers all the questions that we have, and this is the right time."

I spent a long time with the Vikings owner and Lester Bagley, the team vice president of public affairs and stadium development, on Wednesday as those meetings were going on, and I am familiar with many people working on the project. There is no doubt that Wilf was very upset that the city of Minneapolis' $895 million stadium proposal by R.T. Rybak was announced to the media before the Vikings.

This is another case where city officials tried to destroy a pro sports team like they did with the North Stars and the Lakers, and they came close to killing this one. I'm positive Wilf will not negotiate with any other site unless the current Ramsey County deal falls apart. And Wilf is determined to get it through the Legislature.

I am convinced that Wilf will do as the Pohlad family did for the Twins with Target Field -- adding additional team funds to make sure the new Vikings stadium is one of the finest, if not the finest, retractable-roof facility in the country. A covered facility will also enable to draw a lot of additional attractions, potentially including a Major League Soccer team.

As it stands now, the $407 million being contributed by the Wilf family ranks with the top ownership contributions for new stadiums in the NFL, only falling behind teams such as New England and Dallas among recent construction projects.

There is a possibility that the NFL will revive the G3 financing plan it had in recent years, where the league contributed money to teams to build new stadiums.

"It varied from different amounts based upon how much private investment was put in there and depending on the size of the marketplace," Wilf said of the NFL's contribution. "But that's going to be part of the plan going forward and we've expressed that to the NFL.

"It certainly is a significant investment on our part, in the economy that we're facing, but we feel very strongly in this site and what it could bring to our fans and the community."

Potential problems

The problems as Wilf sees them are, of course, the vote of the Legislature, and traffic congestion that according to many experts is blown out of proportion.

While it is being said that the traffic problems could kill the proposal, Wilf pointed to three NFL stadiums that have worse problems than Arden Hills would have, and he also included the Metrodome. And the Vikings won't need the new three roads until the stadium is built.

Furthermore, Wilf and his executives pointed out that MnDOT has worked with Mall of America, Best Buy, Medtronic, and United Health to make road improvements when these big companies built their new structures.

In a memo to Gov. Mark Dayton, the Vikings pointed out that they had hired Minneapolis-based SRF Consulting Group as engineering support. Apparently, traffic improvement for this job would cost between $200 million and $240 million, but this would be to provide better traffic year-round for all the projects that will develop in the area. The Vikings also had another firm come back with a cost estimate of $80 million to $120 million, but that figure had much less work done.

I spent almost an hour 1-on-1 with Wilf, and if you want my opinion, there is no chance of him negotiating with the Minneapolis sites at all unless the Arden Hills deal falls flat.

I have been a big booster of both the Metrodome and the Farmers Market sites. But the problem is that neither one came through with the type of proposal that can present the 21,000 parking spots that the Arden Hills site can, putting the Wilfs in a position to contribute the $407 million.

This is similar to the case where we had an opportunity to get the Winnipeg Jets team to play at Target Center in the fall of 1995, but the Minneapolis City Council wouldn't budge. The end result was that the Jets went to Phoenix and St. Paul got Xcel Energy Center built for the expansion Wild.

Jottings

• Longtime Twins coach Scott Ullger was mentioned in the Chicago Tribune as an "intriguing" candidate to succeed Ozzie Guillen should Guillen be replaced as White ox manager.

• We'll never know if Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith would have had a better player than Ralph Sampson III on the roster had Sampson not withdrawn from the NBA draft. Smith had a transfer ready to enroll if Sampson had left.

• For those fans traveling to Los Angeles Sept. 2-4 to see the Twins play in a three-game series with the Angels and the Gophers face Southern California in football, the Gophers-USC game in L.A. on Sept. 3 is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Pacific time, with the Twins-Angels game in Anaheim set for 6:05 p.m. that night.

• Gophers infielders AJ Pettersen and Nick O'Shea were both named to the Capital One Academic All-District V First Team. O'Shea was also named Big Ten co-player of the week with Michigan State's Jeff Holm, after O'Shea hit .636 with three homers and six RBI in a three-game sweep at Michigan. ... Kyle Knudson, the former Gophers catcher who was a ninth-round pick by the Twins last year, was hitting .321 for Class A Beloit before he went on the disabled list.

• Former Gophers forward Ryan Potulny leads the American Hockey League in playoff scoring with 10 goals and nine assists in 12 games for the Binghamton Senators. Among his teammates is another former Gophers player, Jim O'Brien, who has two goals and two assists in 12 games. ... Former Gophers forward Jordan Schroeder finished tied for fourth in playoff scoring with one goal and five assists in 14 playoff games for Manitoba of the AHL. The Moose were eliminated by Hamilton in a 2-1 triple-overtime loss in Game 7 of their series Monday.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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