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Dayton praises Ramsey County stadium effort, rips Mpls. council

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Stadium concept
This concept image provided by the Minnesota Vikings shows the development of business in the area surrounding a possible football stadium in Arden Hills.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

Ramsey County officials on Friday presented a new plan for a Vikings stadium to Gov. Mark Dayton, one in which they took a set of county-wide taxes off the table and substituted stadium-related taxes and fees.

The plan raises an average of about $21 million a year over next 30 years.

It's their third revision of a proposal for a billion dollar stadium on the site of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.

The plan won some praise from the governor who also lashed out at stadium opponents in Minneapolis, and called for the parties to complete a deal.

In St. Paul, taxes are mostly out for a new Vikings stadium, in favor of fees and surcharges. They're part of a complex financing plan that Ramsey County put forward today to pay its share of a stadium in Arden Hills.

Some taxes remain in the plan. The county wants to charge the same bar, restaurant and hotel taxes as downtown Minneapolis, but only in the immediate vicinity of the stadium. The county's financial planners also want to convert state property taxes and new sales tax revenue to the project — if only to pay for state roads around the stadium.

Backers like Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennet think they have a winner this time.

"Our new plan's a game changer," Bennett said after meeting with Dayton. "It's totally different from the first two proposals we put forward. I think we all know, for those of you who have been there, that the site we have with 260 acres is far by a way the best site that there is."

Minneapolis has offered a plan to keep the Vikings at the Metrodome, paid for with a mix of existing taxes and other revenues, including a $25 parking fee on game days, naming rights for the parking lot, and a 3-percent surcharge on tickets. County officials say it doesn't represent any new taxes, and hope it will pass muster with lawmakers opposed to tax increases.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak remains confident the proposal for the Metrodome site will keep the Vikings in his city, and predicted that a $55 million funding shortfall in the plan will be addressed without jeopardizing the deal.

The response from the Vikings vice president Lester Bagley was decidedly lukewarm.

"There are elements of it that are problematic, that allow us some significant concerns," Bagley said. "Frankly, we think their earlier proposals were more viable. But we'll continue to work with them on it, and hopefully fine tune it and keep working on it.

The strongest reaction of the day, though, didn't come from anyone involved directly with the deal.

Dayton praised the Ramsey County proposal, and said that the county had been what he called forthright and consistent throughout the last 14 months of stadium jockeying.

"They've been consistent throughout, in marked contrast to Minneapolis, were you can't even get a letter from the City Council that a majority of them support the project," he said. "They'll sit on the sidelines and carp about everything and trash the thing. Mayor Rybak and Council President Johnson made a tremendous effort to pull it "a final proposal together, he said.

But Dayton also lashed out at stadium opponents in Minneapolis and at the Capitol.

"There's so many people here in this building and over in Minneapolis who just want to sit on the sidelines and take potshots at it," Dayton said. "Well, OK, if they destroy the proposal and continue to do that, well, then they can explain to the people of Minnesota why they're having to root for the Los Angeles Vikings."

The governor spoke the day after Minneapolis officials disclosed that the tax revenues were $55 million short of what they'd committed for the project. It is part of a complex, $2.3 billion deal to refinance and refit Convention Center and the Target Center, as well as build the Vikings a new downtown home.

Dayton expressed his exasperation that the city council hadn't signed onto the plan.

"I understand now why Minneapolis, why the Vikings decided 'Enough of Minneapolis, we're going to Arden Hills,'" Dayton said. "Arden Hills wants them. Ramsey County, as I say, have been straightforward and consistent and put together sound financing proposals. And we're still just on this merry-go-round with seven members of the Minneapolis city council."

A leading member of that group said their opposition stemmed from authentic concern.

"Sixty-nine percent of the people of Minneapolis residents voted for a referendum that I authored in 1997, that said the people should have the right to vote if more than $10 million was being used on a professional sports stadium," said Gary Schiff, who represents Ward 9. "And I hear nothing but ongoing support for let us vote. And listen to us. And the word that I keep hearing is 'No.' "

Which, for now, means the Vikings stadium issue is stuck on stalemate.