Minneapolis jumps into stadium chase

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 25, 2011 - 11:48 AM

Rybak says city would help pay for new Vikings home; casino is cited.

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Proposed casino for Block E, Minneapolis. Credit: Gensler, Los Angeles

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Monday that the city is prepared to help finance any one of three downtown sites for a Vikings stadium, each of which would be cheaper than the team's preferred site in Arden Hills.

At the same time, Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson said she thinks the council will support a casino in the city's Block E entertainment district that could provide financing for the stadium and other city priorities.

The statements came amid a swirl of stadium activity that is quickening as Gov. Mark Dayton prepares to release his own stadium proposal early next month.

The Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County officials sealed a deal months ago to locate the stadium in Arden Hills, but that proposal has failed to catch fire at the Legislature and Dayton continues to say he is weighing options on where to put the stadium.

"I want what's best for Minnesota," he said after an hourlong meeting with Rybak and Johnson. "I want the best site, I want to keep the Vikings here, I want a people's stadium, I want the economic development opportunity, whether it's in Arden Hills or in Minneapolis. And the way I look at it now, either one's a huge upside" for redevelopment and creating jobs.

Lester Bagley, the team's vice president of stadium development, said Minneapolis officials should save their breath.

"There's a viable plan on the table, and the Vikings are entirely focused on resolving the issue and building this stadium in Arden Hills," Bagley said.

Minneapolis officials stayed on the sidelines throughout the summer as the Vikings and Ramsey County attempted to build support for their proposal.

Now, Rybak said, it has become apparent that plan is too flawed and controversial to draw the needed support in the Legislature.

"The Vikings are an important amenity that should be saved. We believe we can do it in the most practical manner in Minneapolis and we are ready to go," Rybak told reporters after meeting with Dayton.

Dayton has said he wants to call the Legislature into special session next month to move ahead with a stadium proposal, before the Legislature enters its months-long 2012 session -- and an election year.

Rybak said a citywide sales tax would be the main financing component and that there is support on the City Council to approve such a tax. He said he could support a downtown casino as part of a stadium package if some of its proceeds were directed to the city's impoverished Indian community.

Johnson said there are votes on the council to approve a Block E casino and called it an "attractive option" for the city's entertainment district. Council Member Gary Schiff said he thinks there are votes for a casino but that his support may depend on the developer signing "a jobs plan that invests in high-poverty communities."

The Arden Hills proposal would cost $1.1 billion to build a stadium on the site of a former munitions plant. The state and Ramsey County would be expected to finance about 60 percent of the cost -- $650 million.

Rybak said he and Johnson hope to persuade Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf that they should stay in Minneapolis, where the team is finishing out the last year of its lease on the decades-old Metrodome.

In May, Minneapolis officials rolled out an $895 million plan to transform the Metrodome into a bigger facility. Rybak and Johnson said that's still their preferred option, but they also support the Farmers Market site favored by several business groups and the Xcel Energy site near the Basilica of St. Mary.

Rybak said the city would move "aggressively over the next week" on its proposal.

"We also believe we can pass this plan and get it in place so that Christian Ponder can actually play in a Vikings stadium before he retires," Rybak said, referring to the team's new quarterback.

Dayton said Monday that there remain "some real unanswered questions about the viability of the Arden Hills site," particularly the county's proposed one-half of 1 percent sales tax and whether the Legislature would require a referendum to be held. Many stadium proponents say a popular vote on the tax would sink the proposal.

"All these factors are sort of up in the air, and that's why I'm asking anyone who has a counterproposal to come forward with it by the end of the week," Dayton said.

Hennepin County won't have one, County Board Chair Mike Opat said. Opat, who spearheaded the county's drive to build the Twins ballpark with a sales tax of 0.15 of 1 percent, said he wouldn't say the county will never have a proposal, but that there's not enough time now.

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, a leader of the Arden Hills stadium effort, said there's no comparison between Arden Hills and the Minneapolis sites.

"The Vikings are the vehicle to clean the [Arden Hills] site and put people to work," he said. "It will do a lot of things that the Minneapolis site isn't doing."

Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report. Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

  • THE FOUR SITES

    METRODOME

    The $895 million plan would use part of the Dome and expand it into a new and bigger structure.

    FARMERS MARKET

    A 34-acre stadium site could be assembled between I-94 and Target Field in the North Loop.

    XCEL ENERGY

    Minneapolis and Xcel Energy own about 75 percent of the site near the Basilica of St. Mary.

    ARDEN HILLS

    Favored by the Vikings for $1.1 billion stadium on 260-acre former Army ammunition plant site.

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