The upcoming report on the feasibility of a new stadium in Arden Hills for the Minnesota Vikings will neither give the project a green light nor pronounce it dead on arrival.
"I don't think it's likely we're going to say, 'Don't do this,'" said Metropolitan Council regional administrator Patrick Born, who is helping compile the review. "This is more for the governor and the Legislature to have more information."
But the much-anticipated findings, due to be released this week, are already being eyed skeptically by Vikings officials, who say they asked pointedly whether the conclusions might effectively scuttle the $1.1 billion project. Met Council official Arlene McCarthy, in outlining the thorny soil cleanup issues at the former Army ammunition plant, said at a briefing that "it's just complicated."
The report, according to the Met Council and the Vikings, will address road upgrades, pollution remediation, site acquisition from the federal government and potential delays over construction and permitting requirements.
Metropolitan Sports Facilities Chairman Ted Mondale said the report will end several ongoing controversies, including an earlier insistence by the Vikings that the state pass stadium legislation "without knowing the costs." The team also wanted the option to "walk away at any time," he said. "That wasn't happening." Asked whether the report could send the project to the scrap heap, Mondale said, "I have no idea. I'm not going to presuppose what the findings are."
Met Council officials, including chairwoman Susan Haigh, caution that the report's scope will be limited. "Our job is to provide neutral, objective, unbiased analysis," Haigh said in a public briefing. "It's really not an opinion about the site."
The Arden Hills site, heavily favored by the Vikings, is the state's biggest Superfund site and requires extensive decontamination. The report is expected to give the first detailed look at the extent of that cleanup and its costs.
Waiting in the wings are three other sites in Minneapolis, each with its own challenges and none supported by the Vikings. A favorable report could generate momentum for a special legislative session this year that would approve a public subsidy package for the Vikings, while an unfavorable one could pave the way for an alternative site to get a fresh look.
Lester Bagley, the team's vice president of stadium development and public affairs, said the report might also address whether the stadium should have a roof. A fixed roof would cost $185 million, he said, while a retractable roof would be $215 million.
Waiting since August
Gov. Mark Dayton ordered the report in August, after the Legislature did not act on a deal between the team and Ramsey County for putting a stadium on the 260-acre former munitions plant. The county has proposed raising the countywide sales tax a half-cent to support 30 years of payments on $350 million in bonds. The state would put up another $300 million, with the team kicking in the remaining third.
David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said even if the report comes to no firm conclusion, it will "make the discussion a little more fact-based."
Olson, who said he plans to discuss the report with Dayton this week, said the findings could be quickly eclipsed by upcoming events, such as a state revenue forecast in early December that could be gloomy.
With vetted numbers, Mondale said, a deal could come together quickly with a "possible" fall special session. Bagley said that's possible, but said two more steps await: A final, signed agreement among the team, the state and Ramsey County, and legislation that could generate enough votes to pass.
Bagley said the Vikings have confronted the Met Council on "rumors that costs are going to be higher than anticipated based on the study." He said the agency has assured the team that there will be no surprises. "They've looked us in the eye and said this is a straight-up ... above-board analysis," Bagley said.
Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, whose district includes Arden Hills, said of the report, "I'm inclined to believe that there may be things in there that kind of torpedo it, and [make] Minneapolis more favorable" as the site. Goodwin said she thinks one of those things, based in part on her talks with city officials in Arden Hills, may be the site's pollution cleanup costs.
Goodwin said she was told by Dayton's office that the governor is unlikely to call a special session this fall. The governor's office, however, says Dayton is still open to that possibility.
Dave Albersman, a Minneapolis urban planner working to promote the so-called Farmer's Market site in downtown Minneapolis for the stadium, said he recently met with Haigh and other agency officials and said the study might not have much effect at all.
"We could find ourselves anticipating a report that really doesn't clarify the issues that are surrounding" the project, he said.
Barbara Johnson, the Minneapolis City Council president, said the report may not change many minds. "It'll give people a foundation to be more critical if that's the way they want to go," she said, or fuel efforts at "promoting alternatives."
Minneapolis city officials earlier this year unveiled a plan to build a new stadium at the Metrodome, the team's home since 1982, but the Vikings rebuffed that proposal.