A deal for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium appeared closer on Wednesday but still out of reach amid some signs that the negotiators might be resolving the key sticking points that have stymied them for weeks.
The day began with indications that the $1 billion project was ready to make headlines as Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders spent a sixth day negotiating their other big problem: the $5 billion budget deficit that has them facing a government shutdown on Friday.
Sources reported early Wednesday that stadium negotiators had dropped the cost of the $1 billion proposed project by nearly $200 million while the Vikings had upped their contribution from $407 million. In addition, the state, Ramsey County and the team had come to an agreement on who would own and operate the stadium in suburban Arden Hills. Those reports followed comments from a Vikings spokesman who said negotiators were close to an agreement and that the remaining issues could be resolved in time to be included as part of an overall state budget solution.
But Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author of the stadium legislation, said on Wednesday afternoon that "we still don't have a deal. And, frankly, nothing would be announced anyway. Even if we had it, it wouldn't be announced until after the [state] budget [deficit] is resolved."
The early reports had sent opponents of the Arden Hills stadium scrambling. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said the reports led to a 30-minute conference call Wednesday that included her and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
"It's just clear that something was in the air," Hausman said later in the day. "Now, nothing's in the air.
"If anyone is stupid enough to announce that there is a deal on the Vikings before there's a deal on the budget, it's beyond comprehension what the reaction of the public would be to that," she added.
Ted Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, declined to be specific regarding what had or had not occurred regarding the stadium.
"There continues to be constructive conversation," said Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
Since announcing a preliminary agreement with Ramsey County last month, the Vikings have struggled to solve who would pay for road improvements surrounding the Arden Hills location. Other unresolved issues, according to those familiar with talks, include who would pay if pollution remediation at the former ammunition plant site is more expensive than projected.
Wednesday's early reports that an agreement was near came as negotiations over the project, which has yet to have a public hearing at the State Capitol, continued to be held in private.
Moving toward a deal?
Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, a Senate co-author of the stadium legislation, indicated Wednesday morning that there was movement toward a final agreement. "You're headed in the right direction," he said when asked about what it might include. Magnus did not confirm specific figures.
Under a preliminary agreement announced in May, the Vikings would contribute $407 million toward the project, the state would add $300 million and Ramsey County would contribute $350 million, largely through a countywide sales tax increase.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development, dismissed the notion that an agreement was close. "There are no hard and fast numbers," he said. "Ideas are being exchanged every day."
Earlier this week, Bagley said stadium negotiators were close to solving the project's sticking points and could have the project ready for legislators as part of an overall solution to the state's budget deficit. "I think we're close enough so [if] we were advised to wrap it up, we could sit down and hammer out the final agreement," he said.