One of the biggest supporters of an Arden Hills stadium for the Minnesota Vikings became chairman of the Ramsey County Board on Tuesday.
The six colleagues of Rafael Ortega, in a routine rotation of the chairmanship, unanimously elected him for the next two years. He replaces Victoria Reinhardt, an opponent of a taxpayer-subsidized stadium.
"If the right things happen, we can get Victoria's support," Ortega said without divulging what that might be.
Ortega's ascension won't change votes or the tenor of the largely collegial board, but he can elevate the profile of the $1.1 billion project for which he and Commissioner Tony Bennett serve as the two head cheerleaders.
The re-election of Mike Opat as chairman of Hennepin County Board later Tuesday means two stadium proponents lead the counties vying for a new Vikings stadium.
Thus far, Opat has not stepped into the Vikings discussions. However, he made the deal for the Minnesota Twins' Target Field and is widely viewed as being interested because of his experience, the revenue-generating power of Hennepin County and the desire of Minneapolis to keep the Vikings.
In May, Ortega and Bennett proposed a $1.1 billion deal to build on a former munitions site in Arden Hills in Ramsey County. The Legislature has taken no action and the two commissioners' sales tax financing ideas have crash-landed, but they remain unbowed. In three votes, the board has shown a willingness to move ahead with pursuit of a stadium.
"Is the stadium in the foreground? Sure," Ortega said. "But so is the West Building."
The county is again soliciting proposals for the massive riverfront building once buzzing with West Publishing employees who helped support downtown. Attempts to redevelop the prime riverfront site stalled in the past few years because of the slumping real estate market and the sunken economy.
"If I had it my way, I would have done that property a long time ago," Ortega said.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley congratulated Ortega on his new board role. "We greatly appreciate Rafael's leadership on trying to secure a stadium in Arden Hills," Bagley said. "We look forward to continuing to work with him."
The Vikings played their final game of the season Sunday in the Metrodome and are expected to return next season, but the team wants a new stadium to increase revenue.
Ortega and Bennett have consistently had the support of fellow Commissioners Jim McDonough and Jan Parker.
Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman will serve as vice chair. Commissioner Mark Stenglein is vice chair of the Hennepin County Board.
Ortega also was chairman in 1999-2001.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson