Vikings start uphill lobbying effort for Arden Hills stadium

Arden Hills site for a Vikings stadium
Dozens of empty buildings and other structures dot the former Army ammunitions plant in Arden Hills. They would be torn down to make room for a new retractable roof stadium for the Minnesota Vikings if the deal negotiated between the team and Ramsey County goes through.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

The Minnesota Vikings went to work on Thursday trying to sell their $1 billion partnership with Ramsey County to lawmakers. The Legislature and governor have to sign off on the deal, which includes a proposed $300 million state subsidy.

But many lawmakers say that the cost of the stadium and upgrades to the roads around it are likely to exceed the amount the state is willing to pay.

The Vikings got an early start on their sales pitch, as owner Zygi Wilf and sponsors of this year's Vikings stadium bill met for breakfast.

They talked for more than an hour in the back room of a St. Paul restaurant. Wilf briefed them on some of the details of the deal he'd reached for a retractable roof stadium for his team in Arden Hills.

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"We talked about what the inconsistencies were out there, and we tried to come to a common ground and move it forward so that we understand what the issues really are," Wilf said. "And quantify that, and again, an opportunity to make our case and for everybody to discuss it."

Those inconsistencies include estimates of the cost of the stadium. And the talk keeps coming back to roads.

Arden Hills rendering
In an image provided by the Minnesota Vikings NFL football team, an aerial view shows a proposed $1.1 billion retractable-roof stadium to be built on the site of the old Army ammunitions plant in Arden Hills, Minn., about 10 miles from downtown Minneapolis. The Vikings and Ramsey County held a news conference Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Arden Hills to announce a deal to collaborate on the new stadium.
AP Photo/Minnesota Vikings

"You know 694 goes right through the city of Arden Hills," noted David Grant, the mayor of Arden Hills. And of course 35W borders us on the west. We also have Highway 96, we have Highway 51, and we have Highway 10. I guess you could say there are a lot of roads that lead to Arden Hills."

That's part of the reason the Vikings are looking at the site.

But those roads are already clogged. Traffic lines up at Highway 96 and Highway 10 for more a half mile or more in each direction at rush hour. And there's no ramp from northbound Interstate 35W to County Road H at all. That's one of the key access points to the proposed stadium site.

Critics say accommodating NFL fans would require at least $175 million dollars in upgrades, particularly to the state-funded interstates. Ramsey County and the Vikings basically punted on the issue Tuesday, saying the roads don't need to be done before the stadium opens.

County officials did offer to borrow for the road work, but state officials reacted coolly to the idea.

Sen. Julie Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, sponsors of the stadium bill, spoke outside the meeting with Wilf. Rosen, a Republican from Fairmont, said the Vikings have a lot of homework to do.

Zygi Wilf
Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, right, visits with Vikings fan Skolt Scott at the site of the former Army ammunitions plant Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Arden Hills, Minn., after a news conference announcing a deal with Ramsey County to collaborate on a $1.1 billion retractable-roof football stadium on the site.
Jim Mone/AP

"For us to take something to the Legislature, we have to have an answer about how this is going to work. Everything has to be in order."

Gov. Mark Dayton suggested that as he evaluates the proposal he will rely on the state transportation department's cost estimates as part of the state's $300 million share.

"We'll set aside the amount that Commissioner [Tom] Sorel believes is necessary, if this deal goes forward, $175 million if that's his estimate for the stadium site development. So that will be part of the state's contribution to the whole package. And again, if that's workable, then great."

Roads aren't the only point of contention in the stadium debate, though. Some lawmakers outright oppose any plan to spend public money on a stadium.

DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville represents the area around Rosedale, the county's major commercial center. He said the county legislative delegation is against the Arden Hills plan.

"By a three to one margin, even the latest polls, have been suggesting that the public opposes a public subsidy for the stadium," Marty said. "And here in Ramsey County, we're going to take a big half-cent sales tax on our to pay for it? Well maybe the county board thinks so. I think our point is that we as legislators are going to do everything we can to fight it."

But another DFL senator, John Harrington of St. Paul, said he thinks the deal will improve as it works its way through the Capitol.

"I think the long-term benefit of this outweighs the short-term pain of the half-cent sales tax. But I think we're going to find ways to minimize that sales tax so that is going to be the least onerous piece of this project."

But with just 12 days left of the legislative session, the time to get any deal done is running out. And some legislative leaders say they have to agree on a plan to balance the budget before they'll consider a new stadium.