Ramsey County to move forward with Vikings stadium talksby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Ramsey County board voted 6-1 Tuesday to open talks with the Minnesota Vikings about a possible new football stadium in Arden Hills.
The resolution doesn't mention any funding sources or a potential pricetag for a new NFL facility.
They've proposed locating the stadium on about 250 acres of a 430-acre site on the western edge of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant. The site could be auctioned off by the federal government's General Services Administration later this year.
"We should avail ourselves," said County Commissioner Rafael Ortega of St. Paul, "see if we can make something happen in that part of the county. My fear is, with the remediation that is needed, and the way the economy is, we might not see development in that area for a couple of decades."
Ortega was one of the six board members who voted to talk to the Vikings. Only Janice Rettman, who represents St. Paul's North End and Falcon Heights, voted against the idea.
"Today is not about being a fan," Rettman said. "It's to make a tentative decision based on limited information and a dream. We are neither the owners nor the brokers of the TCAAP property."
Rettman urged her colleagues to hold out for tax-paying development, rather than a publicly owned facility that doesn't pay property taxes on part of the site.
Her plea, however, didn't sway any of her colleagues, who ticked off a list of other failed projects on the site, including a casino, a postal hub, a mixed-use residential development and even a potential NASCAR track.
"This property needs a jump start," said Commissioner Tony Bennett, the idea's chief proponent. He lives less than a mile from the site and represents the area.
There was some immediate opposition at the board meeting. St. Paul Republican Party Chair Greg Copeland tried to interrupt the vote, and said later that he would push for a county referendum on any tax that would pay for a Vikings stadium.
The Legislature exempted Hennepin County from a referendum in 2006, when it authorized the County Board to vote on the sales tax that paid for $350 million of Target Field.
"There will be no Vikings stadium tax in Ramsey County," Copeland said. "We are not the suckers that were played by the then-Hennepin County Board. Frankly, we do need to do other things with our money here in Ramsey County."
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley was at the board meeting as well, and welcomed the opportunity to talk to the county about the site.
"We look forward to digging into the questions and the issues, and answering the questions that the county needs to have answered, and the state needs to have answered and the Vikings need to have answered about the site," Bagley said. "But we're very encouraged."
While the County Board's action Tuesday didn't include any specific numbers or financing options, there were already some hints of what those answers might be.
Bennett, the county commissioner, said the federal government has already given Ramsey county hundreds of acres in the area for free, and might do so again.
"The Army's been good to work with. They want to see this land back into production, and they want to see it being used," said Bennett. "What they're willing to negotiate? That's a good question."
Title to the site could be a major part of the county's contribution to the plan.
Ramsey County officials have also been telling lawmakers privately that a state-sanctioned half-cent sales tax could raise another $300 million toward the cost of a new Vikings home.
At least one taxpayer said that would be OK with him. Tom Lemke lives just north of the site in Arden Hills, and said he'd gladly pay a small sales tax increase.
"The site has become a total eyesore. The government and the Army have not done anything to clean the site up," said Lemke. "This is the next best opportunity for lots of years to see something happen on that property."
The board authorized the use of contingency funds to hire consultants and negotiators to talk with the Vikings.
They did not set a deadline to strike a deal, although Gov. Mark Dayton has said he wants a stadium deal done during this legislative session.
- All Things Considered, 02/15/2011, 5:49 p.m.