The Minnesota Vikings' effort to get a new stadium appear to be picking up some momentum. Team executive Mark Wilf was in St. Paul Tuesday, meeting with officials about his team's prospects for a replacement for the Metrodome.
Wilf stopped first in downtown St. Paul, where he met with members of the Ramsey County Board to thank them for their vote last month to open talks with the team.
It was a rare personal appearance by team ownership amidst the slow-going negotiations for a new NFL venue, although Wilf downplayed its significance.
"I wouldn't interpret it as any kind of sign," Wilf said. "I think the main message is going to come from the legislators, and we're hopeful a bill will be coming and be produced quickly here, so we can get to a conclusion. Because, obviously, we need a home and we want to get to work on it."
Wilf said he also hoped to meet with some legislators, although he wouldn't identify them.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, who has said she hoped to sponsor a stadium bill, said she wasn't meeting with team officials Tuesday. A likely House sponsor of the bill, Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, also said he hadn't met with Wilf.
Lanning said he still hoped to talk to Wilf, and to introduce a bill. He said he'd hoped to do it sooner, but it's proving to be unexpectedly complicated.
"New developments keep coming up, too, here along the way, like new potential partners on the local level, new players in terms of the sports facilities commission, with Mr. Mondale coming on board," said Lanning. "There have been a lot of new things that have come into the whole process, and it's just taking a little longer."
Neither Lanning nor Rosen are saying when a bill might be introduced. Republicans are scheduled to give budget targets to legislative committees next week, which will shift lawmakers' focus even more onto addressing the state's $5.03 billion budget deficit.
But in downtown St. Paul, Ramsey County officials say they could have the financial framework for a stadium sketched out soon.
"I think, by the end of this week, we will be getting down to the nitty gritty," said Commissioner Rafael Ortega, one of the main supporters of a bid for a new stadium in Arden Hills.
A 430-acre chunk of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition plant, just east of Interstate 35W, is expected to become available for redevelopment this summer. The county and the team agreed to look at the site and talk over its prospects. It's one of five potential sites the Vikings have looked at.
"Quite frankly, Thursday and Friday are going to be critical in terms of getting a sense of where both sides are at," said Ortega. "I think we are looking at various options, including a sales tax in Ramsey County."
Ortega said he thought he and his fellow commissioners would support up to a half-cent sales tax to pay potential debt service on bonds for the project.
Commissioner Tony Bennett said it isn't clear yet how much borrowing the project might require.
"We're working on numbers to see what the road construction, the price of the stadium, the final cleaning up, the demolition of all the buildings on the site -- those are all things we've got to have, figures and numbers that all fit together," said Bennett.
Soem Ramsey County officials say they fear they'll only be used as a bargaining chip for an eventual deal in Minneapolis. But Bennett said the Vikings have assured him Ramsey County has a legitimate shot, particularly since the county is willing to put its own money in the deal.
"Nobody else has come forward, from Minneapolis or anything," Bennett said. "They tell me that there's only two sites left, ours and one other."
Bennett said he thinks the other site is at or near the Metrodome. Wilf, the Vikings president, wouldn't publicly discuss the prospects of those or any other sites.