The chances for a new Vikings stadium at Arden Hills appeared more uncertain than ever on Tuesday, with Gov. Mark Dayton saying he might let the issue wait until next year's legislative session.
The Vikings had hoped to have the stadium plan included in the special session that started Tuesday. That ambition was quickly dashed. Dayton then said he might consider calling a second special session in the fall to determine the fate of the plan to build a $1.1 billion stadium in suburban Ramsey County.
On Tuesday, Dayton said the plan was "not ready to be considered at this point." He said would not take the decision to call another special session lightly and is weighing whether to wait until the Legislature convenes its 2012 regular session in January. The Arden Hills plan would require at least $650 million in state and county subsidies and major road improvements.
Vikings and Ramsey County officials reacted grimly to the news, with at least one raising the prospect of moving vans full of purple jerseys.
"We are assessing our options," said Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development. Pressed to define those options, Bagley declined. "We are assessing our options and until we sort that out, we don't have anything to say," he said.
Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett was less terse but more dire.
"What would you do if you had a chance to move to a new stadium [elsewhere] or fight the politics in Minnesota?" Bennett asked. "I think any businessperson would recommend they be gone."
Bennett helped steer a pact with the team for a stadium on the former munitions site in Arden Hills at the nexus of Interstate 35W and Hwy. 10.
Metropolitan Sports Facilities Chairman Ted Mondale sought to calm tensions, citing the context of the historic 19-day shutdown at the Capitol.
"Everyone's tired and angry," Mondale said. "It's time to cool off. Have a glass of iced tea. Walk the dog. Everything will be all right." Mondale said that Dayton has told him that a fall special session is still a possibility. "Bring an appropriate deal to him, he'd do that," Mondale said.
As late as last Friday, the Vikings were tinkering with the deal and legislators were too focused on the budget to work with the team, Mondale said.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, one of the bill's lead authors, said that delaying it until the regular session in 2012 -- a year in which every legislator is up for re-election -- would not jeopardize its chances.
"I don't think that's a legitimate fear," she said. "By that time, you're in your last year [of the Vikings' Metrodome lease]. You'll have the issues fought out."
Mondale said that it's not the time to deal with the stadium. "Obviously, before you call a special session, you have to have the votes and have something out there that people can see and feel and touch." Work on the stadium will continue, he said. "The will to do it is there."
The Vikings-Ramsey County deal required the county to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for $350 million in bonds. The state would have contributed another $300 million. The county, the team and the state have yet to agree on the final amount needed for road improvements.
Breadth of support unclear
Throughout the regular session Republican legislative leaders remained cool to the stadium issue even as they wrestled with a $5 billion budget deficit and an anemic recovery that has hampered economic growth. They grew even more resistant once Dayton vetoed their budget bills, triggering the government shutdown. It remains unclear whether the votes ever existed in the Legislature to approve a stadium that requires public subsidies.
In addition, the St. Paul City Council and Mayor Chris Coleman opposed the sales tax increase, saying the cost would be born disproportionately by St. Paul.
Bennett called the situation a "sad shame."
"We could have gotten this done," Bennett said. "As long as the numbers stay the same, we're still there, but the state has got to be there," he added.
The governor provided a slim hope for stadium supporters. "I take calling a special session very seriously, and something that I would not do lightly. ... And so, it would have to be circumstances that compel it," he said.
Bennett said he has a "feeling" special circumstances might develop. "I don't think the Vikings are happy campers. I may be wrong. They don't have a contract after this year."
The Metrodome contract expires at the end of the 2011 season. Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission executive director Bill Lester said the commission would be willing to extend the contract under the curent terms.
Across the river, Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat dismissed the option of his county galloping in to save the stadium. Opat, who has been fond of alternate plans for a Minneapolis farmers market site, said he isn't working on anything for the Vikings now. The county levied a 0.15 percent sales tax to build Target Field for the Minnesota Twins.
The state budget deal is the one Opat says he's most concerned about. "We don't know what the effects of the budget will be," he said. "If it's as bad as some are suggesting, I can't think any local will go for" a stadium plan.
Staff writers Mike Kaszuba and Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report.
Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749 Twitter: @rochelleolson