Referendum could be deal-breaker

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2011 - 11:11 PM

Politicians are messing up the Vikings' stadium proposal, and the team would move if it falls through.

If you got a chance to tour the proposed new stadium site for the Vikings in Arden Hills, you would think it is a real eyesore in Ramsey County. Approving funding for the stadium would start the effort to clean up all the junk there and put something pleasant on the site.

This week I got a chance to look over the site -- where a peak of some 26,000 workers manufactured ammunition during World War II -- along with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and former Vikings coach Bud Grant. It's a sad piece of land that should be developed.

I've been a big booster for a Vikings stadium to be built either on the Metrodome site or at the Farmer's Market site in downtown Minneapolis.

But after viewing the site, which will include parking for 26,000 cars, I can see how much people will enjoy tailgating there like they used to do at Met Stadium. There will be a lot of work to be done in order to build the stadium, including demolishing several buildings.

The Vikings have done a lot of work to convince politicians in the Legislature of the benefits of the stadium and to vote in favor of it. The Wilf family is putting in more money to build the stadium than most other franchises have contributed that have recently built new facilities. But we still have Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers calling for a referendum in Ramsey County on the proposed half-percent sales tax needed to fund the stadium.

I suggest Koch check with her Buffalo constituents on how she would fare in a future election if the Vikings, who are in the last year of their Metrodome lease, decide to move to Los Angeles or some other place if they can't finalize this deal.

I agree with Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, who has been pushing hard for the Arden Hills site, that a referendum would kill the stadium proposal. And if there wasn't a referendum for the Twins' Target Field, which has been such a major success, why have one for the Vikings stadium?

If a referendum took place and voters defeated the tax-increase proposal, believe me, it's a cinch the Vikings would move. The team would be stuck in the Metrodome with no chance to take in the necessary revenue to compete with other teams.

All signs point to two teams moving to Los Angeles to play in their proposed new downtown stadium. The Vikings could be one of them.

So we can blame Koch and Zellers for trying to kill a perfect site for a stadium and the other developments that would follow once the new home for the Vikings is built.

Big site

The site is over 2,000 acres, most of it owned by the U.S. Army. Of this, the stadium would take 450 acres and the Wilfs would eventually develop 250 more acres with shops, restaurants and other venues to enhance the gameday experience.

As Wilf pointed out to me, you can see the Minneapolis downtown skyline from the Arden Hills site and when the stadium is built, you will have a view of both downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. The site is about 10 miles from downtown Minneapolis and 8 from downtown St. Paul.

There is all this talk about the lack of freeway access and the need for additional roads to accommodate 65,000 fans going to a game at the stadium. But Interstate 35W and Hwy. 10 were fine on our drive to the site, without too much trouble despite all of the MnDOT work going on.

"We've met with MnDOT and we've reviewed the access points throughout the whole site," Wilf said. "It has great visibility and great access points from many points on 35. Route 10 is going to be expanded. We've talked over with MnDOT improvements that would be necessitated for us to bring this site to a traffic plan that will get traffic in and out in a minimum time.

"As you can see, this is a Superfund site which is going to be cleaned up. Much of it has been cleaned up by the Army, but the rest of it will be cleaned up and be put to productive use, such as the stadium, [Vikings] Hall of Fame, parking for tailgaters and the experiences that will bring."

Wilf added: "We're going to provide state-of-the-art types of media and information services, and facilities such as restaurants and entertainment will also be part of the surrounding development."

Wilf envisions a stadium with a retractable roof that could be used for many other events besides the 10 or so Vikings games each season, including Final Fours, Super Bowls and all types of entertainment, following the model that has made the Dallas stadium such a success.

"We envision this to take over a period of three years to get this thing built," Wilf said. "It's very important that we get going because every year that passes, the costs go up by a significant amount. So we're looking forward to getting this done with the county and with the state in a timely fashion. It's a great location. It's a location that's so close to the Twin Cities and right in the middle of the metro area. I think it will be a tremendous boost for the economy of the north metro area."

But just leave it to these great politicians in this town to mess it up. Remember, Cleveland lost its NFL team and it cost them double to build a stadium to get one back years later. The same thing happened in Baltimore.

Politicians such as Koch and Zellers are setting the stage for no pro football being here for several years. Then you will come begging to get the NFL to bring an expansion team to a new stadium, which, you can rest assured, would be built without a referendum.

Jottings

• The word is that the performance-enhancing drug portion of the NFL collective bargaining agreement is not settled and once it is, there is a good chance Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who currently is slated for a two-game suspension, might not miss any games. ... Don't rule out the possibility that defensive tackle Pat Williams might return this year if the coaches believe they need defensive line help. Williams has not signed with anybody and he claims money is the reason he is not back.

• The Vikings' season-ticket sale is presently 50,000, 5,000 less than a year ago, even though they have sold 3,000 new season tickets. Season tickets are available, as well as single-game tickets for every game.

• Steve Fisher recently signed a new four-year contract to coach men's basketball at San Diego State. Brian Dutcher, son of former Gophers coach Jim, is an assistant to Fisher and will succeed him as head coach when Fisher's contract expires.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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