Arden Hills stadium a done stadium deal? Hardly

As Ramsey County worked to solidify its position as the Vikings' favored location, Minneapolis forces maneuvered.

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St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The push to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium took more frantic twists and turns Thursday as the team suggested critics might be trying to scuttle its plan to build in Ramsey County and influential business leaders worked to swing the project back to Minneapolis.

The day's events included St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman breaking his silence on the Vikings plan to express doubts about whether he could support it. There were also indications the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners has enough votes to back the $1 billion project in suburban Arden Hills.

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett attempted to meet with Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday but was told Dayton had no time. Meanwhile, Minneapolis business leaders, led by the Downtown Council and the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, fired off a letter to Dayton proclaiming the virtues of the city's plan to build a new stadium on the site of the Metrodome.

As the project's complexities appeared to mount and with just 10 days before the Legislature must adjourn, stadium supporters appeared to be exploring their options.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the Senate's chief author on stadium legislation, said the Vikings asked her Thursday whether the project could obtain a tentative approval from the Legislature this year, then work out the details later. The team, she said, asked "is this something that could go next year, if we have something in place? I said, well, certainly, but I'm not sure where the governor's at with that."

Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president for stadium development, acknowledged posing the question but denied any intent to push the negotiations into next year. "It wasn't our game plan, or it wasn't a request," he said.

While Bagley said the prospect of switching the project back to Minneapolis was not being considered, he declined to directly answer what might happen should a competing proposal to build in Minneapolis be sweetened financially before the team began construction in Arden Hills next year.

The back-and-forth over the stadium comes just three days after Vikings owner Zygi Wilf announced an agreement with Ramsey County to build a 65,000-seat stadium at a former ammunition plant in Arden Hills. The team, he said, would contribute $407 million to move the team's home from downtown Minneapolis. The county would raise $350 million through a countywide half-percent sales tax for the project, while the state would contribute $300 million.

The 'smell test'

But the state's share must include the road upgrades state officials say are needed for the project, and there were signs Thursday that the Vikings were becoming testy over the road improvement issue.

Bagley said the state's assertion -- reiterated by Dayton -- that at least $175 million would be needed in Arden Hills "doesn't pass the smell test."

"Twenty thousand cars added to the road system on Sunday [for a game] costs $175 million? It's easy to kill stuff, particularly on stadiums, [but] I'm not casting aspersions," Bagley said.

West of the river, backers of a stadium in Minneapolis appeared to be seeking a strategy to delay a final stadium decision.

The business community's letter to Dayton and legislators reiterated their strong support for the city's stadium proposal on the site of the Metrodome, where the team has played since 1982. The letter was being sent by Home Field Advantage, a business and civic coalition that successfully backed a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.

"The Minneapolis plan is real," said Sam Grabarski, president of the Downtown Council. "One has to wonder if the Legislature has time to understand and debate any proposal. We have to believe that common sense will prevail."

Ted Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, was unavailable for comment Thursday but has said building a new stadium at the Metrodome location would cost $895 million, compared to as much as $1.2 billion in Arden Hills. Those costs have been disputed by Arden Hills backers.

For Coleman, a tough spot

There were other signs the Minnesota business community is ramping up its forces.

Jac Sperling, who helped bring the Minnesota Wild to St. Paul and later was the Wild's chief executive, is now a lobbyist with the newly registered Minnesota Competitiveness Fund, a group dedicated to keeping the Vikings in Minneapolis. The group's treasurer is U.S. Bank Chief Executive Officer Richard Davis, whose headquarters are in downtown Minneapolis.

In St. Paul, Coleman said supporting the Arden Hills project and its countywide sales tax increase would be tough for him politically. He suggested an alternative stadium funding plan: Charge a penny tax per bottle statewide on beer and liquor.

"People in Virginia [Minnesota] watch the Vikings on TV. People in Mankato are eating buffalo wings and drinking beer on Sunday [and watching the games]," said the mayor, who said he had not yet decided whether to endorse the Arden Hills plan.

Coleman said he has not seen a detailed report but was told unofficially that the countywide sales tax would raise up to $30 million a year, with as much as $17 million coming from St. Paul.

Who pays for roads?

Bernie Arseneau, state deputy transportation commissioner, said there are three roadway upgrades scheduled near the Arden Hills location over the next six years -- none designed to meet the demands of a 1.6 million-square-foot stadium and its accompanying development. "This kind of development would require something much more than that," Arseneau said.

The biggest of the upcoming projects, slated to begin in August, would be a $45 million "reconfiguring" at Interstate 694 and Hwy. 10, just south of the stadium's proposed location. Three nearby bridge projects, totalling $20 million, were scheduled starting next year, and another $10 million project at Hwy. 10 and County Road 96 was also slated to begin next year.

State: Roads could cost $240M

State transportation officials said the stadium alone would require $175 million in roadwork, while roadwork for a stadium with adjoining development would cost $240 million. While the county would own the stadium, the team plans to buy and develop 170 acres for a massive retail, housing, entertainment complex that would generate additional revenue.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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