Vikings stadium details emerge

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and R OCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: May 12, 2011 - 6:15 AM

As it became clearer how the Vikings and Ramsey County would allocate obligations, St. Paul Mayor Coleman was loudly quiet.

New details emerged Wednesday in the Minnesota Vikings' plan to build a stadium in Ramsey County that show the Vikings would cover some -- but not all -- of any cost overruns for the project and would get the final say on whether the roof is retractable and would get the lucrative stadium naming rights money.

A 12-page agreement of terms between the Vikings and Ramsey County was released by the county as Minnesotans, including legislative leaders, began to digest the news that the team plans to move from downtown Minneapolis and build a $1 billion, 65,000-seat stadium at the former Arden Hills ammunition plant that could include a retail/entertainment/training complex.

The release came as one of the key players in the unfolding stadium saga -- St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman -- remained silent on the project, even though the proposed half-percent countywide sales tax increase needed to raise $350 million for the stadium would have a major effect on the city. Coleman did not attend Tuesday's press conference announcing the project, and the mayor jetted to Washington, D.C., to attend a "poetry night" at the White House after meeting with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and others.

"Because St. Paul [is] the largest city in the county, I'd expect that you'd certainly want his support," said Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, a Senate co-author of the Vikings stadium legislation who supports the Arden Hills plan. He added, "I don't know that it kills it" if Coleman opposes the project.

Said City Council president Kathy Lantry: "I am generally not supportive of spending $300 million at this time for a Vikings facility."

St. Paul has seen its local government aid cut, been forced to reduce library hours and its school system is preparing for a $25 million cut across the district.

Divvying the costs

As Wilf huddled with legislative leaders in a breakfast meeting to push his plan, the agreement provided the first hard look at how the Vikings and the county would divide their responsibilities and costs. The stadium would open by June 2015, and include up to 150 private suites, according to the agreement. The team would have the authority to decide on the stadium's design, development and construction.

Ramsey County would buy 430 acres of the site from the U.S. Army, then sell 170 acres to Wilf.

While the stadium would be publicly owned and be governed by a five-member stadium authority, the Vikings would operate and manage the facility and would own the 170 acres. The Vikings' plans call for ultimately creating a sprawling campus that would house corporate offices, a Main Street-style complex of restaurants, retail and residential areas, a cinema, a Vikings Hall of Fame, training facilities and a "Festival Plaza."

Members of the stadium authority, which could sell personal seat licenses to the stadium, would be appointed by the governor, the county and Arden Hills.

The terms of the agreement spell out a division of costs on any overruns. The Vikings have committed to pay for extra costs in cleaning the contaminated Superfund site and other project costs. But the county would be responsible for overruns "associated with certain on-site and off-site infrastructure improvements, including surface parking and related interior circulation."

If there are savings from the project, the Vikings would get the first $41 million and the county and team would equally share in the next $100 million in savings.

The Vikings, according to the agreement, would sign a 30-year stadium lease, but would not be required to move its corporate headquarters from Eden Prairie's Winter Park to Arden Hills.

Although the team is obligated to commit $407 million to the project, the agreement indicates that Wilf's own contribution could be significantly less than that. The $407 million would come not only from the team, but also the National Football League, the sale of private seat licenses and "other private revenues generated by the project."

But details remained sketchy on Wednesday, with Ramsey County Finance Director Lee Mehrkens saying he might not have a breakout on tax numbers for "a week or two." The state Revenue Department must still prepare a formal report with Ramsey County sales tax estimates, which must then be reviewed by financial advisers and presented to the County Board.

The county has stipulated that it will not be responsible for ongoing stadium upkeep, although it would have to pay $1.5 million annually for operating expenses for non-football events and to offset the cost of operating a retractable roof. That payment could go up with inflation.

All stadium-generated revenue would go to the team, including from parking facilities, signs and naming rights. The team would pay for all municipal services such as security, traffic control and fire prevention.

But the plan makes clear: The state pays for the roads. The memo says road and infrastructure improvements traditionally have been an obligation of the state.

No voter referendum

Addressing an issue that is likely to heighten emotions, the agreement would not require Ramsey County to hold a voter referendum before imposing a sales tax increase -- a move that would require legislative approval. No public funds for the project would be raised until a labor agreement is reached between the National Football League and its players.

With the Legislature scheduled to adjourn in 11 days, legislative reaction to the proposal continued to be mixed, amid signs that the team and the county were working behind closed doors to build support. The Arden Hills site relies on a $300 million contribution from the state.

Rep. Michael Beard, the Republican chair of the House transportation panel, said one option might be to send "some signals" to the Vikings this year that legislators support the project, and leave the details until later.

"We have time to get [the details] teed up next year yet," he said.

Road upgrades for the project continue to be the biggest obstacle. Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author of the Vikings stadium plan, said he agreed with Gov. Mark Dayton that the state's commitment should not rise above $300 million and that any state road improvements would need to be subtracted from that amount.

But Lanning, who said he met Wednesday with Wilf to reiterate the point, said that the roadwork estimates should only be for building a stadium -- not any future development that might surround it.

State officials said building a stadium would require $175 million in roadwork, and that building a stadium and any accompanying development would require $240 million.

"To me," Lanning said, "the future development is a future issue."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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