Speculation that the Minnesota Vikings could move their Winter Park headquarters has unsettled some of Eden Prairie’s leaders and created buzz about the future of 100-plus acres of farmland in Chanhassen.
“People in Chanhassen are asking, ‘Is it happening? Could it happen?’ ” said Chanhassen Mayor Denny Laufenburger.
Talk about a possible Winter Park move surfaced in May, when a Vikings official and a developer confirmed there had been discussion about it.
A piece of the sprawling Chanhassen site near Hazeltine National Golf Club where the team’s headquarters might move already is on a developer’s radar for a possible lifestyle center with shops, restaurants, offices and housing.
Its retail portion alone would be roughly the size of Edina’s Galleria or the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park. The entire project would be the largest ever built in Chanhassen, boosting the land’s taxable value from less than $10 million to an estimated $100 million. It’s the kind of payoff city officials have been looking for since the Hwy. 212 expansion gave Carver County its first access to a freeway.
But the prospect of the Vikings adding themselves to the mix in Chanhassen, a city that is smaller than Eden Prairie but growing at a faster clip, has some worried. The Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce believes it would be a big loss for the suburb to lose the team, which has called Winter Park home for 34 years.
“The recognition of Winter Park, headquartered in Eden Prairie … it’s a good way for people to know where Eden Prairie is,” said Pat MulQueeny, the group’s president. “If the Vikings were to leave, it’s a loss. Definitely we’d like to keep them here.”
MulQueeny’s counterpart in Carver County recognizes the bragging rights that come with being associated with the Vikings. Every time the team calls a news conference at Winter Park, Eden Prairie’s name pops up on the news. There also are more tangible benefits, said Lori Anderson, president of the SouthWest Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“Having it [in Chanhassen] would really benefit area service businesses and restaurants,” Anderson said.
“They’re a quality employer needing quality services, everything from providing food to cleaning buildings,” Laufenburger said. In addition to Eden Prairie, the team also has facilities in Minneapolis, with a combined workforce of close to 200 employees who could be consolidated at a single location.
Laufenburger said there could be other benefits, like being able to use fields or practice facilities for community events. “It’s potentially exciting to think about the partnerships that could exist,” he said.
Besides the ripple effect on nearby businesses, the Vikings bring some tax benefits. In Eden Prairie, Winter Park pays about $272,000 a year in taxes for two parcels of land — $28,600 of which goes to the city and $35,700 to the school district, according to property records. An office building owned by the team brings $35,600 to the city and $44,500 to the school district.
Long history in Eden Prairie
The Vikings facility opened in 1981 on the city’s eastern border, named after Max Winter, one of the team’s founders.
“Having the Vikings come to Eden Prairie was a pretty big deal,” said Dean Edstrom, who was on the City Council then.
The city had open land, was fairly central in the metro area and not far from the airport. Over the years the team replaced a practice bubble with a larger facility, including an indoor field, meeting rooms, a weight room, offices, dining hall and kitchen.
Since buying the Vikings in 2005, Zygi and Mark Wilf have invested several million dollars there, but Winter Park still lacks amenities found at other NFL headquarters.
“We’ve known for years … how tight things are there,” said Dave Lindahl, Eden Prairie’s economic development manager, adding that the city won’t give financial aid or incentives to the team to stay.
While the city wants the Vikings to stay, Lindahl said the 16-acre Winter Park site at Hwy. 169 and Interstate 494 could be a prime spot for redevelopment Eden Prairie lacks, such as a full-service hotel or more offices. And it wouldn’t be surprising if the Wilfs, who are developers, chose that route, Lindahl said. That could include the neighboring office building they bought in 2013 for $10 million.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley declined last week to comment on whether the team will move or stay, saying only that it continues to evaluate its long-term space needs.
When Winter Park opened, Eden Prairie was a farm field community of about 16,000 residents. Now, it’s home to 62,000 residents and several Fortune 500 companies.
Nearby, Chanhassen, smaller and less developed, is rapidly following in Eden Prairie’s wake. Its population has increased by 7.5 percent in the last five years and is approaching 25,000. And since the end of 2010, Chanhassen has added 715 units of new housing, compared with 272 in Eden Prairie, according the Builders Association of the Twin Cities.
Population growth combined with affluence in Chanhassen and surrounding communities has fueled interest in the lifestyle center. At a City Council meeting earlier this year, Level 7 Development said a market study it had commissioned showed the trade area’s population was growing faster than the metro area overall and the area’s household income of $103,000 was 20 percent higher than the average for the Twin Cities.
There also appears to be pent-up demand in Chanhassen for the kinds of goods and services a lifestyle center would provide. At the council meeting, residents spoke of traveling to Eden Prairie, Edina and farther to shop for more than groceries. “We need more options,” said Jackie Duea, a 15-year resident. “We’d love to see more sit-down, full-service restaurants.”
Community Development Director Kate Aanenson agrees on the need for expanding retail. “We have convenience retail, but if you’re looking for a suit to wear to a wedding, you might not be able to get it here,” she said.
In March the council approved working with developers on a planning study. Work on that hasn’t begun yet, and Laufenburger and Aanenson stress that the city won’t sign off on any land uses or tenants until it gathers communitywide feedback.
Brenda Pratt, who lives near the site, said her family would welcome such a center, especially if it had open communal space along with shops and attractions to make it “a place to go and spend an afternoon.”
But Pratt said she also is intrigued by the prospect of the Vikings, adding: “It would make an exciting story to tell about our area.”