Jobs a key issue in Vikings stadium debate

Arden Hills site for a Vikings stadium
Arden Hills site for a Vikings stadium sits on a long-disused Army ammunition plant.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Supporters of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings say the jobs it will create are a key benefit. They say the stadium will help bolster a struggling construction sector.

Building the $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills will mean work for 7,500 construction workers, said officials with the Minnesota Vikings. They also said nearly a third of the cost of the stadium, $300 million, will go directly to worker wages. Those numbers please Dave Semerad, chief executive officer and director of the Association of General Contractors. The construction sector has some of the highest rates of unemployment in the state, Semarad said.

"It would be a huge project that would have a significant impact on the employment of many building tradesmen and women and have a huge impact on the Minnesota and Twin Cities economy," Semarad said.

Mortenson Construction Vice President John Wood estimates that the project will require 4.3 million work hours — roughly double the number of hours it took to build Target Field. Mortensen Construction hired about 3,500 people to build the ballpark. A new Minnesota Vikings stadium may very well be the largest project ever built in the state, Wood said, and most of the work would be done by Minnesota residents.

"When we built Target Field, I think over 95 percent of the employees that worked on the project were local people and we would anticipate something similar for the new stadium for the Vikings," he said.

Stadium supporters point to those numbers as a reason why a stadium should be built. They also argue that building the stadium in Arden Hills would redevelop a polluted site that has been vacant for decades. Matt Kramer with the Greater St. Paul Chamber of Commerce said his organization backs the Arden Hills plan because it would clean up the old Army ammunition plant.

"The plant basically stopped producing right after the Vietnam War," Kramer said. "It has not been developed. There is no prospect for immediate development and here you have somebody that is willing to put a significant amount of their money, including the public sector at a time, and this is pure coincidence, when we need job creation."

Kramer's organization is concerned about but not completely against a proposed sales tax increase of a half-cent in Ramsey County that would pay for a portion of the stadium. However, Kramer said several area businesses are unhappy that Ramsey County is being asked to finance a third of the project.

One concerned business owner is Stephanie Shimp, co-owner of Blue Plate Restaurants, which owns seven restaurants including the Groveland Tap, Highland Grill and Scuzi. She doesn't want to see the Vikings leave Minnesota but warned a sales tax increase could force them to raise prices.

"We'll find out a way to make it work, but the likelihood of us having to push down some of those costs to our guests is high. You could say that it's a pass-through tax but at the end of the day it is going to cost more," Shimp said.

Other business owners worry a county tax would put them at a competitive disadvantage with businesses in other counties, sending some Ramsey County residents to another county to avoid paying the higher tax on bigger ticket items.

Other stadium critics argue that the development won't really produce long-term jobs. DFL Senator John Marty of Roseville said the Vikings aren't an out-of-state business relocating to Minnesota. He said player salaries, games and the workforce would merely shift from the Metrodome in Minneapolis to Arden Hills. Marty doesn't believe there is economic benefit to building a new stadium.

"If I don't spent $100 at a game, I'm not going to take the money and throw it in the garbage. I'm going to spend it some other way," Marty said. "The point is, if you take both sides of the equation, it's basically a wash."

There are other proposals that don't include paying for the stadium through a sales tax increase. Suggested ideas include an expansion of gambling, tapping funds from the Legacy Amendment, a ticket tax and a fee on sports memorabilia. Gov. Mark Dayton said he will release his stadium plan the week of Nov. 7.

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