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Dayton opts not to endorse Vikings stadium site

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Vikings stadium
With Gov. Mark Dayton looking on, Chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Ted Mondale discusses the proposed Vikings stadium sites at the Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Gov. Mark Dayton declined to endorse a specific site for the proposed new Vikings stadium Wednesday and said questions remain about the financial viability of the Vikings-preferred site in Arden Hills.

The governor said he spent the weekend reviewing Vikings stadium proposals. Last week, Dayton told reporters that he might endorse a site if one stood out as the most desirable and feasible.

Dayton said Wednesday that he thinks there are three potentially viable options for the new football stadium — the Arden Hills site, the current Metrodome site, and the Linden Avenue site near the Basilica of St. Mary.

The governor said the state Legislature's opposition to proposed tax increases makes the Arden Hills proposal unworkable unless Vikings officials are willing to pay a bigger share of the project. Dayton also said the Linden Avenue site in Minneapolis has potential development advantages over the Metrodome site, but he highlighted unresolved issues with both Minneapolis sites. 

"In conclusion and regrettably, there is not yet a stadium proposal with a complete and sufficient financial plan, one which assigns equitable obligations to the Vikings, the local partner and the state of Minnesota," Dayton said at a news conference Wednesday. "And no site sponsor has adequately resolved the major unanswered questions in order to merit approval to proceed."

Dayton raised several concerns about the proposed Arden Hills site and said it's unlikely the state legislature will allow Ramsey County commissioners to increase the general sales tax or the food and beverage tax to help fund the stadium without a voter referendum.  He said that would leave the Arden Hills stadium with just two funders — the state of Minnesota and the Vikings.

 Under that scenario, Dayton said, the team would need to contribute $700 million of the $1.1 billion cost of the Arden Hills project.

The governor also urged the Vikings to disclose how they plan to develop the 170 acres of the Arden Hills site that would not be used for the new stadium.

"If the Vikings truly want to be in Arden Hills, they have thus far missed their opportunity to inspire decision-makers and the public with their vision for the site's entire development," Dayton's office said in a statement released shortly after the news conference.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley later said the team will not increase its share of costs for the Arden Hills site. "If Arden Hills is not achievable, we will work with state leaders and the city of Minneapolis to try to negotiate an agreement that would work in Minneapolis," he said. "We're not there yet."

Dayton said that of the proposed Minneapolis sites, the Linden Avenue location is perhaps the most viable, in part because of its proximity to downtown restaurants and bars. 

That suggestion was met with opposition from the Basilica of St Mary, a church close to the proposed site. At a news conference later in the day, Pastor John Bauer cited concerns about noise, traffic flow and the impact on historic buildings. He said the church may consider legal action to block construction if the Linden Avenue site is selected. 

Bagley, of the Vikings, described the Linden Avenue site as an "intriguing opportunity." He said the Metrodome site presents challenges, but is workable.

The Metrodome plan attracted some criticism from the governor, who called the proposal "meager" and said the cost savings from building on the same site would be "relatively inconsequential." Dayton also questioned whether building a new stadium on the Metrodome site would led to significant economic benefits. "The Metrodome has proven to be largely unsuccessful in stimulating other economic development nearby," Dayton said.

The governor dismissed a proposed plan to build the new stadium in Shakopee, saying the plan's financing depends too heavily on income from gambling revenues. Dayton said passage of legislation to permit gambling "is uncertain and would likely face court challenges."

Despite the lack of an endorsement, Dayton said he thinks the stadium issue could be resolved in this year's legislative session. "I think we're at the five yard line, first and goal," he said.

Dayton ended the news conference by calling on the state Legislature to resolve the issue during this year's legislative session.

"I'm passing on where I stand today to the Legislature and it's their prerogative as to how to proceed," he said.

Dayton's announcement is the latest development in a months-long debate over the location of the new Vikings stadium. The football team is nearing the end of its 30-year contract at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

The Vikings have repeatedly pushed for the stadium to be built in Arden Hills in Ramsey county, on the site of a former munitions plant. Minneapolis officials presented three possible stadium sites.

The governor relied in part on a study completed on behalf of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.

A copy of the report, obtained by Minnesota Public Radio, showed that the so-called Linden Avenue site would be the best long-term option for the Vikings. It could also require nearly $100 million more in state support, and a $450 million contribution from the Vikings.

The team has pledged only $425 million so far, with about half that coming from a loan from the NFL. The plan would allow the team to keep playing in the Metrodome while their new stadium is built. The site is now home to an Xcel Energy facility, a city of Minneapolis public works garage and a pump manufacturer.

The study concludes that a Ramsey County bid would ultimately require a referendum, and that a defeat would make a stadium unaffordable. A rebuild of the Metrodome would be the cheapest option.

(MPR's Tim Nelson and Tim Pugmire contributed to this report)