Momentum to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills gained a big boost Tuesday from National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, who met with Gov. Mark Dayton and proclaimed himself "very excited" about the site.
But by day's end, that momentum slowed to a crawl when a top Republican said no stadium plan would pass the Legislature until the state's $5.1 billion budget deficit has been solved.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said the team's $1 billion stadium plan would not move forward until the Republican majorities in the House and Senate reached a budget compromise with the DFL governor -- a possibility that appeared far off on a day filled with heated partisan jousting.
"The budget discussion comes first and last for us," Koch said.
Dayton met early Tuesday with Goodell and expressed optimism the project could quickly move forward. But there were increasing signs Tuesday that complications surrounding the 65,000-seat stadium plan in suburban Ramsey County might be too much to overcome in the final week before adjournment.
State and county transportation officials spent much of the afternoon huddled behind closed doors trying to arrive at a final cost for the necessary state road improvements around the stadium site that supporters say has become the project's most vexing problem. Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, who helped reach the deal with the Vikings, said the two-hour meeting ended with a "significantly lower" figure than the $175 million previously estimated by the state, and there were indications the cost might have dropped below $150 million.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, who attended the Dayton and Goodell meeting, said "it appears to me that Arden Hills is now the site." But Bakk said he also told a roomful of state and NFL officials that the stadium project was unlikely to be ready for a legislative vote by the weekend. Bakk said no one in the room -- including Dayton -- disagreed with him.
Bakk said the stadium's overall prospects seemed to be improving but simply would not be resolved by the Legislature's May 23 adjournment.
"There was no urgency," he said of the tone of the meeting with Goodell at the governor's residence.
Goodell, who toured the Arden Hills property on Monday, was upbeat as he stood alongside Dayton and legislative leaders at a morning news briefing. "It's an extraordinary site, and I think it's very exciting," said Goodell. He added that the Vikings, who were conspicuously absent from Tuesday's meeting, felt "very strongly" about the Arden Hills project.
The NFL commissioner deflected questions about whether a competing plan to build a stadium in downtown Minneapolis, where the team has played since 1982, could still be considered.
Goodell said the NFL would be contributing financially to the project, but the chief House author of the stadium legislation said afterward that Goodell did not appear to offer new money on top of the $407 million the Vikings must commit. The NFL's contribution, said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, would likely be part of the Vikings' contribution and would not go toward state road improvements.
"I expect the Vikings are going to want to claim that," Lanning said of the NFL's contribution, which he said could total $50 million.
Lanning, who also met with Goodell at the governor's mansion, said the NFL commissioner indicated the league could make more money available, but that such a decision would have to wait until the NFL reaches a labor agreement with its players' union.
Dayton, who has been critical of the Arden Hills plan, nonetheless said Tuesday he was confident a proposal could pass the Legislature before Monday. "Anything is possible," the governor said as he stood with Goodell. "Stay tuned."
Dayton remained firm that the state would pay no more than $300 million, no matter the project's total costs. Ramsey County is the third financial partner in the proposal, and would raise $350 million through a half-percent countywide sales tax increase.
State Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said he was not under pressure from Dayton to reduce the state's $175 million estimate for road improvements to make the project workable. "We still feel there's some validity in that," Sorel said of the $175 million. The team has disputed the figure, saying the roadwork could be done for as little as $80 million. The state has estimated that road upgrades for a fully developed site, which would include a retail/housing/entertainment complex, could run as much as $240 million.
By late afternoon, Bennett said Sorel and a handful of state and county road engineers had come within $10 million to $12 million of agreeing on a cost. "They're trying to get it a little lower," he said. "It's moving very much in the right direction." County officials said compromises could include phasing in repairs or using road shoulders and traffic police when 21,000 cars head to Vikings games on Sunday afternoons.
Bennett, casting about for extra resources, said Tuesday he did not consider the proposed Stillwater bridge across the St. Croix River into Wisconsin to be necessary and that some of the $274 million set aside for Minnesota's share could be used for the Vikings stadium.
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