Minneapolis plans Vikings stadium announcement as infrastructure issues complicate the Arden Hills site

Here's a sketch of the proposed stadium that Minneapolis will unveil at 2 p.m.
Ellerbe Becket
Here’s a sketch of the proposed stadium that Minneapolis will unveil at 2 p.m.

The Vikings stadium roller coaster is set to swing up and down today, with queasy stomachs sure to result.

It’s so fluid, that by the time you read this, things might have gone into a loop-de-loop and already changed in this fast-moving Vikings ride.

But this is what we think we know as of Monday morning …

• There’s a news conference on tap.
The city of Minneapolis is planning a news conference for this afternoon to announce a Vikings stadium plan.

Curiously — and significantly — as of late Sunday night, Vikings officials said they weren’t going to be represented at the session.

This suggests the team isn’t yet on board with the city plan. The team wants to be in Arden Hills. And, we’re hearing, they want to be in Arden Hills really bad. ZygiWorld is their vision.

As we’ve been saying at MinnPost for the past week, the city of Minneapolis’ share of any stadium plan would include some of the taxes that now go to pay down Minneapolis Convention Center debt. Those are state-authorized liquor and lodging taxes. Apparently, other taxes will be in the mix, too.

Two sources have told us that a Target Center renovation piece is part of the Minneapolis proposal, too. Jeff Goldberg of Fox 9 News first reported a similar plan outline last night, and the Star Tribune jumped on board early this morning.

• TheArden Hills plan is very much alive.
Apparently, the team has grand visions of development on the large site north of St. Paul.

But the roads and infrastructure issues that have dogged any plan to build on the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) site continue to loom large in any final, responsible plan.

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett insisted the cost to stadium-linked highway construction would be "only" in the $100 million range.
Google Maps
Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett insisted the cost to stadium-linked highway construction would be “only” in the $100 million range.

In an email to MinnPost last week and in other media reports, Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett insisted the cost to stadium-linked highway construction would be “only” in the $100 million range, down from previous estimates of at least $200 million. Now we’re hearing Bennett thinks the cost could be as low as $80 million.

“Keep your pencil sharp,” Bennett told us. “Watch a huge drop in road dollars.”

It’s Bennett’s argument that, stadium aside, roads in around the site north of I-35W and I-694 need improvements anyway. And he points to state subsidies to, for example, the Mall of America as precedent.

But that’s exactly the problem. There is continuing concern among state officials about these road costs. Roads can’t be built just for a stadium, just as they couldn’t only be built for the mall. The roads need to make sense for daily use and must fit into an overall Department of Transportation plan.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s stadium point person is Ted Mondale, former chair of the Metropolitan Council, an agency with deep interest in transit and roads, and which also weighs in on the “metropolitan significance” of such large public construction projects.

In January, new Met Council Chair Sue Haigh was interviewed by MinnPost’s Steve Berg, and here’s a telling exchange. Haigh, remember, was once a member of the Ramsey County Board.

Berg: “There may or may not be a Vikings stadium in the immediate future. Technically, the council has the authority to intervene on the location of any major project it deems to be of “metropolitan significance.” I think the last time that happened — perhaps the only time — was in the building of the Mall of America. The reason for intervention would be to assure that a major facility is connected to metro infrastructure. In the case of stadiums, the Twins have demonstrated how a ballpark and transit can work together to handle big crowds. What’s your view on stadium location and transportation?”

Sue Haigh
Metropolitan Council
Sue Haigh

Haigh: “My sense is that wherever a new stadium might be located, it should maximize the current transportation investment because that’s the way it can be most cost-effective. It has to be that way. [emphasis added] But the governor has not signaled in any way whether he thinks this would be a decision of metropolitan significance or whether the council would play a role in that.”

Not yet. There could — and should — be some Met Council analysis of the Arden Hills site. A call for that need not come from the governor. Any citizen can seek such a review. We’re betting at least one citizen opposed to any far-reaching Arden Hills site will seek that Met Council review.

• Roads aren’t just a metro concern.
Improving highways is not something that goes on willy-nilly in the state. Lawmakers wait in line for years for trunk highway improvements in their districts.

One rural legislator said over the weekend that any jumping ahead in line for road funding for a stadium would cause a major uproar among Greater Minnesota legislators. It’s like getting your number at a deli or bakery — say ticket No. 5 — and the person with No. 25 gets served first because they’re taller or shout louder. Just like in the deli, that jump ahead in line would cause a stir in the Legislature.

• Did we mention votes?
Even if there is one plan in place soon, there’s still the matter of votes, at the city council level in Minneapolis and at the state level in the Legislature.

Whatever the Minneapolis plan looks like, Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson are going to have to deliver enough votes to get this past their City Council and a citizenry that will likely explode in opposition.

It looks as if Bennett has votes from his Ramsey County Board comrades.

As for the state … of course, once Gov. Dayton points to a plan that he can live with, that will be very important.

But any vote for a Vikings stadium is going to have to be bipartisan. The DFL is not going to carry this, not while it’s been complaining that the Republicans are spending too much time on other social issues. And not while the Republicans control both chambers.

Every caucus will have to deliver votes on this project in an atmosphere that has been very party-line disciplined.

Republicans are sure to look carefully at whether there are any “new taxes” in any stadium plan. They’re fighting new taxes on all fronts, but will they bend for pro football? Or will most taxes — as in Minneapolis’ case — be previously authorized taxes for a new purpose?

Is a sales tax on sports clothing and souvenirs a “new tax”? Is a new Ramsey County sales tax for a stadium a “new tax,” even if approved by the county board?

State Sen. John Marty
State Sen. John Marty

From the left will come another point of view. A longtime critic of public funding for stadiums, Sen. John Marty, whose district is adjacent to Arden Hills, recently sent an opinion piece to supporters, saying: “No politician will admit that they consider funding a Vikings stadium a top priority. But for some, it seems to rate higher than education, health care, or other needs. 37 out of 37 Republican state senators — every one of them — sent a letter to Governor Dayton earlier this year, strongly opposing any new taxes or revenues. They made their position clear — no taxes for schools or for health care. No taxes for roads and bridges, or for public safety, or for the environment. No new taxes for anything.

“However, some of those Republican senators are making an exception. They recently introduced legislation to raise taxes to subsidize a new Vikings stadium. The one thing for which they are willing to raise taxes is a taxpayer-subsidized stadium?”

He then took on his DFL colleagues:

“Some DFL politicians support a stadium subsidy because it will create jobs in the hard-hit construction industry. We urgently need more construction jobs, but we could do so by addressing the enormous backlog of public infrastructure needs. For example, within a few miles of the Metrodome, there are schools that were built in the 1930s and ’40s that haven’t been updated in decades.”

The contours of the legislative debate are being constructed.

• St. Paul, what sayeth you?
Perhaps the most significant development over the weekend for the Arden Hills site came in a Star Tribune report that included the view of veteran and respected St. Paul Rep. Alice Hausman.

Hausman was quoted as saying about Bennett and other Ramsey County commissioners, “This small group of people, against the best interests of everyone who lives in Ramsey County,” was backing the stadium plan.

A spokesman for Mayor Chris Coleman told the Star Tribune the mayor hadn’t been briefed on any Ramsey County stadium plan.

Really? With as much as about half of county sales taxes generated within the city of St. Paul, city support for a countywide effort seems necessary.

If the Vikings’ vision is that of another Mall of America sort of Wilf-o-Rama in Arden Hills, won’t that negatively affect downtown St. Paul, which already needs all the help it can get?

Is a Ramsey County mega-development good for St. Paul?

• A city vs. suburbs scenario still exists.
Fascinating tension, and long-standing.

A decade ago, when I was writing about the history of the development of the Metrodome, I asked Ken Dayton, Gov. Dayton’s uncle, about why it was important to put the region’s new multipurpose stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

After all, it was the Dayton family with its department stores that drove the construction of suburban malls that, some could argue, threatened the economic health of both downtowns.

Dayton, then the chairman of the Dayton Hudson Corp., was known more for his behind-the-scenes charitable giving and civic involvement than his outspoken nature. It was a rare interview he gave.

When I asked about putting a stadium downtown instead of in the suburbs, he looked at me as if I were speaking Serbo-Croatian.

He talked about museums and orchestra halls and stadiums and said, “Anything that you have one of should be downtown.”

Downtown is the cultural center of gravity for any metro area. Not surprisingly, I heard this weekend that the business leaders who were until recently backing a Farmers Market/North Loop site in downtown Minneapolis have shifted their support to the Dome site. Twin Cities business interests don’t hang out in Arden Hills.

• Will there be a global solution?
As Channel 9’s Goldberg reported and MinnPost heard Sunday, there is a Target Center renovation piece to this Vikings plan. At some point, the dots will also connect to the Block E casino plan. That’s also set to come forth this week. Target Center would be adjacent to any Block E renovation, the auditorium for the casino.

Are we moving into the realm of the “global solution” that we’ve written about and that the NBA Timberwolves and even Mayor Rybak have been touting? It seems a little bit late in this game to be raising such a mega-notion. But it also raises the possibility of a very-strange-bedfellows deal that seems to be swirling: a Minneapolis-St. Paul marriage.

Might the two core cities band together? A Target Center fix-up, a St. Paul Saints stadium, a debt-reduction arrangement for St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, and a Vikings stadium … all in the downtowns?

Or is that a strange dream?

• Does the team get to pick?
Even if the Vikings’ stake is now reaching towards $400 million or more in a $900 million to $1 billion Arden Hills project, does it get to pick where a stadium goes, one that will get $500 million in public funding and that’s supposed to be a “statewide asset” and a “people’s stadium”? One that requires massive road improvements and other public infrastructure contributions?

History shows the Twins didn’t get to pick their site for Target Field; a citizens group identified the current site.

Back in 1977, the Vikings didn’t get to pick their site, which became the Dome. Team leaders preferred to stay in Bloomington and were beaten up by downtown business interests to come to the Dome site.

In recent history, the Wild site was already the St. Paul Civic Center. The site was simply recycled.

Yes, Target Center for the NBA was picked by the team owners — but they paid for the whole enchilada … until their reach extended their grasp and resources, and they had to be bailed out. Not a pleasant scenario to remember.

So, put on your seat belt and strap on your helmet. The roller coaster ride is under way.

More this afternoon from the planned Minneapolis news conference and then tonight, when the Arden Hills City Council meets at 7 p.m.

MinnPost’s Jay Weiner has covered sports facilities issues in the Twin Cities since 1993 and the demise of Met Center and public buyout of Target Center. He is the author of “Stadium Games: Fifty Years of Big League Greed and Bush League Boondoggles,” University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

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Join us on Monday, May 16, as MinnPost journalist Jay Weiner interviews Sports Facilities Commission chair Ted Mondale to discuss issues surrounding a new Vikings stadium. Click here for details and ticket information.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Mick Crisler on 05/09/2011 - 12:27 pm.

    Whether a Vikings stadium ends up in Arden Hills, on the present site in Minneapolis or even in Duluth (now that goes back aways!) one truth is self-evident. At some point, the Wilfs will give up on Minnesota and sell the team. And if anyone thinks that a prospective buyer of an NFL franchise who’ll have to lay out enormous sums of cash will be willing to play in the Metrodome which comes in either at or certainly near the bottom of the league in revenue production is smoking an illegal substance. No, they’ll find themselves a more profitable home and then we’ll be without Pro Football here in Minnesota. I know there are a certain amount of you out there that could care less about this and would say good riddance. But let’s remember that building a new stadium would help stimulate Minnesota economy by putting people back to work and giving future employers a reason to bring their businesses to Minnesota. Amenities are very important to prospective business owners who understand that in order to attract the best possible employees for their enterprise, the location of their business and the area’s amenities definitely influence their decision-making. Much of the State’s cost in a new endeavor of this type will or can be defrayed. There is really no good reason why this notion of building a new stadium for yet another sports billionaire should be rejected, except for the inescapable fact that the people who complain about this the most are nothing more than confused, angry, bitter individuals who listen to too much talk radio and are gullible enough to believe everything they hear. If Minnesota wants Pro Football, and for over 50 years now, we’ve proved that we do, then it’s time again for us to pay our dues in order to qualify for the exclusive club that is a city with a pro football franchise. There are only so many to go around and there are plenty of legitimate, organized suiters out there, mouth-watering in anticipation, of a foolhardy fumble by Minnesota citizens that would create a disasterous turnover and cause us to lose one of our beloved institutions. Don’t go cheap now my fellow Minnesotans, there is too much to lose at stake if you do.

  2. Submitted by Everett Flynn on 05/09/2011 - 02:42 pm.

    “There really is no good reason why this notion… should be rejected.”

    Well, yeah, that’s totally true. I mean, except for the glaring obscenity of spending this level of public dollars to subsidize a private endeavor (pro sports, of all things) in an environment where so many of our competing priorities are getting nothing but the back of the legislature’s hand.

    Listen, I kind of buy into all the logic in favor of this subsidy. But I also buy into the notion that it would be shameful for us, the citizens, to spend our collective resources for this purposes while the refrain for every other public need is “cut, cut, cut, live within our means,” and all manner of such drivel.

    Personally, I think we could do better for our competing priorities (K-12 schools, higher ed LGA, public safety, infrastructure maintenance and repair, the list goes on…) AND partner with the Vikes to build them a new home, if we sensibly raised more revenue by asking wealthier Minnesotans to pay their fair share of the costs of our civil society, rather than using its benefits at a discount.

    Unless and until we approach it from that angle — give a little (more revenue) to get a little (new stadium), then I think we’re stuck with the obscenity of wanting to offer hundreds of millions of subsidy to pro sports while EVERY OTHER PUBLIC PRIORITY languishes.

    I think such a thing is obscene even to consider. That is NOT the kind of society that I want to live in. And that is NOT the kind of society Minnesota is supposed to be.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/09/2011 - 02:43 pm.


    The economic stimulus you get from stadiums goes almost entirely to the team, these stadiums are no deal for taxpayers or communities. In fact, these half billion to billion dollar pro-sports subsidies actually distort the local economy, we’d be better off without them. What’s at stake? I’ll tell you, about $10 million in income tax revenue collected from NFL players. And we’re gonna spend $30 million in direct subsidies, and $50 million in Vikings related purchases to get it. We come out $20 to $40 million ahead if just let the team go and don’t subsidize professional sports and spend out entertainment dollars elsewhere.

  4. Submitted by Mick Crisler on 05/09/2011 - 04:01 pm.

    Everett and Paul, thanx for your feedback. I think you’re both missing the larger picture here, that people would be put back to work, we would have another tool to try to lure business here when their are cultural activities for their employees and that much of the money required in taxes spent could be made back in user fees, seat licensing, memorabilia parking fees, concession percentages and the like. We do have more glaring needs, that i wont argue with. Our schools need to stay competitive, our infrastructure is perpetually in peril (one of the perks of living here in Minnesnowta)and taxes need to be reigned in to make our State more competitive to the business world. As a sports fan, i have 50 years invested in watching the Purple break our hearts every year. It would seem a shame to just let them slip through our fingers. Your sentiments are understandable. And I think you both understand that those that have the money make the rules and hold all the cards. I don’t like that part of it any more than either of you. But as a sports-minded person, who enjoys living in Minnesota despite our current problems, sports is a large part of our cultural magnificence here. It wouldn’t be the same here without the Vikings. I’ve heard it said before and it would be true, we are on our way to being nothing more than a “cold Omaha” if we let our teams leave because we refuse to pay the going rate.

  5. Submitted by Hillary Drake on 05/09/2011 - 04:42 pm.

    As a resident of Ramsey county, I can say with absolute confidence that if they raise the county sales tax over a stadium my purchasing power will go to a different county for any big ticket items. That would also go for property taxes and the house I plan to buy in a year.

    There are a few bars and restaurants I’d still go to, but most of what I spend money on is also available in Washington, Hennepin, or Dakota counties, and they’re all convenient.

    But then I’m ready to see the Vikings make good on their threat and move to L.A.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/10/2011 - 12:12 pm.

    //Everett and Paul, thanx for your feedback. I think you’re both missing the larger picture here,

    Actually Mick I am looking at the larger picture. The larger picture is a legislature that’s about let the government shut down rather than raise taxes to pay for government services, while at the same time creating a billion dollar subsidy for pro-sports. The big picture reveals that these sports subsidies spend hundreds of millions to channel hundreds of million into less than 150 pockets, which is actually bad for the local economy. Sports subsidies deliver the least bang for buck imaginable as far as jobs are concerned because they don’t expand the economy or add infrastructure.

    That’s the big picture, not whether or not some executive is going to have to find something other than a Vikings game to bring a guest to (which by the way, our executive has to do any one of the 355 days a year the Vikings are not going to be playing a game).

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