Vikings dream big in stadium plan
ARDEN HILLS -- Brothers Mark and Zygi Wilf want to bring football's Super Bowl, Final Four basketball tournaments, Major League Soccer and, especially, a traditional football game-day experience to Minnesota.
"We are going to bring back ... the old traditions of tailgating and a full-day experience," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said Tuesday as Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County officials announced plans for a $1 billion Arden Hills stadium. "This is what our fans want."
The announcement of the retractable-roof stadium drew cheers from a legion of fans. But 10 miles away at the state Capitol, lawmakers were less enthusiastic about the proposal coming in the waning days of their 2011 session.
The team has committed $407 million. That would cover 44 percent of the cost of the $884 million stadium or 39 percent of the $1 billion project's overall costs, which includes parking, on-site infrastructure and environmental costs.
"This is not only a special day, but also a very exciting day for the state of Minnesota, Ramsey County, the Vikings and our fans," Zygi Wilf said. "We believe we have selected the ideal site here in Ramsey County for a new stadium."
With the potential state contribution capped at $300 million, Ramsey County would raise $350 million through a half-cent countywide sales tax, Commissioner Tony Bennett said.
On hand for the announcement were former Vikings coach Bud Grant, retired star Jim Marshall and current coach Leslie Frazier.
The venue, located on 260 acres about 10 miles from both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, would have 21,000 parking spaces with plenty of room for tailgating.
Zygi Wilf said the development would also include a Vikings hall of fame and several other amenities that would create a full-day experience and "a state of the art facility the entire nation will look up to."
Bennett added that building a stadium on the site on the abandoned Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant would create 13,000 jobs, 7,500 of which would be construction jobs for the three-year duration of the project.
"Jobs are very important," he said.
But while the team and the county gushed about the possibilities of a new stadium, to replace the nearly 30-year-old Metrodome, the proposal still is far from a done deal.
Some legislators cast a skeptical eye on the projects, while others say more work is needed before bills supporting a stadium advance.
The main House stadium bill author, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he is pleased the Vikings and Ramsey County have an agreement, but there is no way the state will pay the $7 million a year the Vikings say would be needed to improve nearby roads. He called that "a red flag."
"I'm anxious to see the details," Lanning said.
A bill must make progress this week, he said, since the Legislature adjourns on May 23.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Dayton has done a good job of "grabbing onto the issue" to help it progress. However, he said, legislative leaders remain focused on budget issues and are doing little about a stadium.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, reiterated long-held opposition to funding a Vikings stadium. He cited a recent poll concluding that 60 percent of the state is against public funding.
Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, said the Vikings need to pay at least 60 percent of a stadium's cost. She represents the stadium area and said that she fears it could divide the community.
A trio of Ramsey County legislators also opposed the plan.
Legislative approval is needed before a stadium can be built, because the state would borrow money to finance stadium construction, to be repaid by new sports-related taxes and other fees.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation estimated that the site needs up to $240 million in transportation improvements to be viable, though Wilf and Bennett said those enhancements can be made for less.
The Ramsey County announcement came a day after Minneapolis presented an offer for a nearly $1 billion stadium. The Vikings said they were not involved in creating that plan and had issues with the funding methods.
While Dayton pointed out the high road improvement costs, he remained open to the Ramsey County site.
"I will support either project up to $300 million state participation," Dayton said.
The biggest question is whether the Legislature can approve a stadium before it adjourns May 23.
"I think it is very possible and very doable," Dayton said. "I also think it is possible that it won't" happen.
Minneapolis officials pitched as part of its proposal the ability to reuse much of the Metrodome site in building a new facility downtown.
Legislative leaders have said they want to emphasize fixing the state's budget problem, which is not close to completion.
Dayton has said he would consider signing a Vikings bill before the budget is resolved.
The proposed stadium would be north of Minneapolis and St. Paul, about 10 miles from each downtown. It is just east of Interstate 35W and just north of Interstate 694.
Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities freelance writer. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.