By Mike Kaszuba and Rochelle Olson
Given that there is now a tentative budget deal, an end to the state government shutdown and a special legislative session probably next week, here’s the real question:
Where does that leave a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings?
The Vikings said immediately they were ready to get it done, and said there had in fact been stadium meetings Thursday with legislators.
But House Speaker Kurt Zellers was much more vague. “We haven’t had any discussions about what’s in, what’s not, in that proposal,” Zellers said Thursday of the Vikings’ $1 billion proposal to build a new stadium in Ramsey County’s Arden Hills.
“We haven’t looked at for weeks, you know – I would say even months, about where they are, where they’ve been,” Zellers added.
Zellers made his comments standing with Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch outside the governor’s office as they announced they had a tentative agreement to end the state’s two-week shutdown.
Dayton agreed, saying he too had not discussed the Vikings stadium in weeks – but he said he would be seeking an update of where the stadium plan stood.
The Vikings’ proposal would include at least $407 million from the team, $300 million from the state and $350 million from Ramsey County, largely through a countywide sales tax increase. The proposal, despite heavy media speculation, has yet to have a hearing at the State Capitol this year.
But the Vikings indicated that, with the budget shutdown likely ending, it was time to focus on the stadium. The deal at the State Capitol, said Lester Bagley, the team’s vice president for public affairs and stadium development, “means it is time to move the stadium discussion forward.’
Bagley said that as recently as Thursday he had phone conversations with Ted Mondale, Dayton’s chief stadium negotiator, Ramsey County officials and legislators. Bagley said the discussions would continue Friday.
"We are very close to an agreement. It's not complete, but it's close enough that we believe we can iron out the final details in discussions beginning" Friday, Bagley said.
Nearly all of the stadium discussions with public officials have been held in private.
The remaining issues, said Bagley, were the stadium’s management and operations, construction and design as well as "size and scope." The question, he said, is, "can we reduce the size of the project and therefore [the] cost?"
Asked if that meant the proposal would be smaller and cheaper than the $1 billion proposal, Bagley said the project had evolved since the team announced its agreement with Ramsey County. Bagley however declined to detail how the size and cost of the stadium might have changed.
As to whether the anti-tax GOP would approve a deal, Bagley said, "it's up to them, we've done what we've been asked."
Does he think it will pass in a special session? Bagley said it has a "reasonable chance."
But Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said now was not the time to bring up the Vikings stadium at the State Capitol. “I don’t think it fits in at this time at all,” he said Thursday.
“I would hope no one would bring that up,” he said, referring to the upcoming special legislative session.
Howe said the Vikings stadium, once the state budget deal was finalized, could however be brought up in a separate special session later in the year.
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