Reusse: Arden Hills plan should be a train going nowhere

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2011 - 9:06 AM

The only beneficiary of having a Vikings stadium way out there is Zygi Wilf and his pocketbook.

Tim Pawlenty was elected Minnesota’s governor in 2002. He offered a plan in his first term to finance potential stadiums for the Twins and the Vikings. The Pawlenty Plan had a Herman Cain quality to it: one-third of the money from the team, one-third from a local partner and one-third from the state.

Pawlenty and the Legislature were content bystanders when a solution was found to finance a Twins stadium. One-third would come from the team, two-thirds would come from the local partner, Hennepin County, and zero from the state.

Pawlenty was out of office when the Vikings announced a stadium deal that would roughly follow T-Paw’s guideline. The proposal called for large hunks from the Vikings, from the state and from a local partner, Ramsey County.

This seemed like a reasonable effort at the time. If the Ramsey County commissioners had the votes to apply a half-cent sales tax to come up with $350 million, why not give it a chance to have a stadium on the long-abandoned ammo plant in Arden Hills?

That part of the financing formula came crashing down Nov. 1 when Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders agreed that a referendum would be required for Ramsey County (or other local governments) to levy a sales tax for a stadium.

The half-cent sales tax was such a guaranteed loser with the voters that Ramsey County and its $350 million disappeared into the ether.

Team owner Zygi Wilf sent a letter to Dayton on Friday, insisting that Arden Hills remained the best possible site for a Vikings stadium. The letter also carried the threat the Vikings’ offer of $407 million was good only for the Arden Hills site.

There are a couple of things that should be understood here:

• The Vikings’ offer of $407 million would include whatever contribution the NFL as a whole would make, and also
would give the team naming rights.

Reasonably, Zygi could get $75 million from the NFL, and $6 million to $7 million annually for the first decade of a naming rights contract, cutting his outlay for an Arden Hills stadium to less than $300 million in a hurry.

• The latest rough estimates are $900 million for a stadium at the Metrodome site (including demolition) and $1.1 billion at Arden Hills.

Which means, even if Zygi chooses to pout and cuts his offer to $300 million for a non-Arden Hills stadium, it still would be $100 million cheaper for the state to build at the current Dome than it would at the old ammunition factory.

Wilf is correct in his letter. Arden Hills is the best possible site for a Vikings stadium — if what we have as our main concerns is Zygi being able to collect $40 per car for thousands of cars on game Sundays, and for Zygi to be able to develop the rest of the large acreage with retail, lodging and offices.

You can’t blame Wilf for pushing this, not when remembering that Zygi might own a football team but in his chest beats the heart of a commercial real estate developer.

If the goal for the folks at the State Capitol is to give the Wilfs
everything they would want in a stadium site as team owners and land developers, it’s Arden Hills in a walk.

And, that might have made sense when Ramsey County was coming to the table with $350 million. With the state now on the hook for the entire public share, the Metrodome is cheaper and takes advantage of infrastructure that has worked for 30 years.

One more thing: Minnesota taxpayers are now spending $478 million as our share of the Central Corridor train that will run from downtown St. Paul to Target Field. This goes on top of $292 million that we spent on the Hiawatha Line.

That works out to $770 million — plus millions in subsidies on an annual basis.

And with no share of the dollars coming from a local partner, we’re going to build a more expensive dome at a location in need of highway improvements, and where no commuter train will ever be seen, rather than at a site with a train station outside the front door?

That’s definitely a move only
Minnesota politicians could make.

Patrick Reusse can be heard
noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN.
preusse@startribune.com

 

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