Hennepin Co. not interested in new Vikings stadium

Vikings stadium concept
An artist's rendering of a proposed Vikings stadium. With about a month to go in the 2011 legislative session, a Vikings stadium bill has been introduced but does not indicate where the stadium would be built.
Minnesota Vikings

With about a month left in the Legislative session, the effort to build the Vikings a new stadium may linger to the waning days.

One big unanswered question is where a new stadium might be built. As always, Minneapolis is a favorite. But the folks most likely to make it happen — Hennepin County officials — are still on the sidelines because of the money the host county would have to come up with to help pay for the stadium.

Board chairman Mike Opat said this week he doesn't even know if he and his fellow commissioners will make a bid for the stadium.

"I think the odds are against it," Opat said, adding that the Legislature is currently pushing to cut aid to counties.

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"It's hard to think that when there's a summons to come rescue the Vikings stadium effort, that we're going to leap to the front of the line," he said.

And he's not alone.

Polled on the stadium question this week, not a single one of the seven Hennepin County Commissioners said they were willing to make a deal on a stadium under the terms currently under consideration at the Capitol.

"I haven't seen anything that I would support, or ... for that matter, anybody on this board would support."

Commissioner Randy Johnson was among them. He represents Bloomington, southern Eden Prairie, Richfield, and a small portion of Chanhassen.

He was also a key vote in 2006 to raise the county sales tax to build Target Field. But this time?

"I haven't seen anything that I would support, or that I think the majority of the board would support, or for that matter, anybody on this board would support," Johnson said.

One of the three opponents of the Twins deal, Gail Dorfman, said she's not any more interested in paying for a Vikings stadium. Dorfman represents south Minneapolis west of downtown and St. Louis Park.

"It'd be great to see a new stadium. But I don't think the public should have pay two-thirds of it, the same way we did for Twins stadium," Dorfman said.

That reluctance to put public money into pro sports may be even higher than it was five years ago.

For one thing, the stadium bill includes a provision that proposes siphoning off some of the existing Twins tax proceeds for the Vikings.

Supporters of the Twins stadium, like Commissioner Randy Johnson, say they're unhappy to hear talk of changing the terms of that deal five years after the fact.

And another commissioner, Jeff Johnson, said he doesn't think there's any interest in more taxes in Hennepin County, period.

"From my standpoint, as a county partner, as a local partner, I just don't have an interest in spending more taxpayer dollars, Hennepin County taxpayer dollars, on another stadium," he said.

Johnson said he thinks the state ought to drop the matter altogether.

"I think the state has so much to focus on, I think they just need to set this aside."

"We have so much to focus on in the county, I think the state has so much to focus on, I think they just need to set this aside," Jeff Johnson said.

Johnson represents the northwestern third of Hennepin County, from Rogers to Lake Minnetonka. He also just won election as one of two Minnesotans on the Republican National Committee.

While he's an outright opponent, a couple of other commissioners were more circumspect about the Vikings.

"Right now, I'm focused on what the Legislature is doing to the people of Hennepin County, the vulnerable people we serve," said Jan Callison, the former Minnetonka mayor who now represents the suburbs around the lake. "I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about the Vikings."

Commissioner Mark Stenglein voiced what may be the most support for a Vikings stadium, saying he thinks it important to keep the team in the state, both for fans and for the good of the region.

But he also said that he doesn't think there's enough votes to support a bid.

"You can point to a lot of different examples around the country where teams have moved. And this region would be at a loss without a professional football team," Stenglein said. "That being said, there's a point where you just can't give away the store to keep them here, either."

Of the seven commissioners on the board, only one, Peter McLaughlin, wouldn't answer any questions or say anything about whether he's spoken to the Vikings or if he'd support a stadium bid.

That may leave only two potential suitors left for the Vikings. Commissioners in Ramsey County voted six to one to enter talks with the team over a site in Arden Hills. They've also expressed some willingness to sign on to a sales tax deal like the one that built Target Field.

Stadium bill sponsor Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said the city of Minneapolis is third likely partner.

Officials there have said they want the Vikings to stay, but voters, by a margin of more than two to one, put a $10 million limit on stadium funding.

The city also already has a nearly 8 percent sales tax. Downtown hotel, food and liquor taxes are well into the double digits and the city may not be able to afford any more.