Lawmakers hold a bad hand when it comes to a stadiumby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Vikings have a plan, but is it a good deal for Minnesota?
When you're strapped for cash, making financially responsible decisions is a lot easier if you have choices. But in the quest for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, state officials and lawmakers so far don't have many.
Despite two separate proposals this week -- one at the Metrodome site in Minneapolis and the other on an old Army ammunitions site in Arden Hills -- only the Arden Hills site has support from the team.
No one at the state Capitol declared the Minneapolis proposal dead for the lack of team support, but discussions Thursday focused on how to make the Ramsey County site work rather than how to get the Vikings interested in the other site.
"At this point the Wilfs are saying they're dead set on Arden Hills," said Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale. "I don't see interest on behalf of the main legislators and the governor at this point of saying you have to go here. I don't think anyone's talking about forcing the team into a deal."
Mondale and the commission this week released a basic comparison chart showing that building a stadium in Arden Hills would be more expensive than the Metrodome site, mostly because of the highway improvements that would be needed. But even if the Vikings come up with a solution to cover the $175 million to $240 million gap, no one knows whether the plan is the smartest option for a state interested in keeping an NFL team.
Minneapolis officials continued to argue that their plan is better, because the cost of transportation and infrastructure improvements would be minimal and because officials include a plan to renovate the Target Center where the Minnesota Timberwolves play.
"What the state will get if the deal happens in Minneapolis is all that revenue from a new Metrodome, plus all the additional revenue from a renovated Target Center," said John Stiles, spokesman for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. "A renovated center that's more competitive for top-notch events will generate more revenue, and that's better for the state."
Stiles said the Target Center currently generates about $15 million a year for the state and would generate more if it got upgrades.
Stiles called the Minneapolis proposal the "most affordable and most realistic proposal that provides the public the best benefit."
The Vikings have said the plan won't work because it forces them to play at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium during the three years while their new stadium is being built. The team says that would result in about $40 million in lost revenue.
But the highway improvement costs for the Arden Hills site are significantly higher. The Minnesota Department of Transportation provided estimates this week that include the costs of designing and building highway improvements. And Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said the estimates don't include maintenance costs.
"These numbers are not numbers that I would say have had a hard engineering analysis," Sorel said. "We typically would go through a traffic modeling exercise and clearly do more detailed work that would come up with a more definitive estimate, so these are very broad-brush estimates at this time."
Sorel said he didn't expect long-term maintenance costs to be significant, but questions remained over how the transportation costs would be shared between the state and local government entities.
There's also uncertainty about the cost of cleaning up the land, which is a designated Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. Neither the EPA nor Minnesota Pollution Control Agency could provide numbers to back up Ramsey County's estimate that it will cost $30 million to both acquire and clean up the land.
Meanwhile, those skeptical about using public money to help the Vikings build a new stadium said state officials shouldn't be fooled by the team's insistence on the Arden Hills site.
"Who says the Vikings get to decide? They're the ones that have their hand out," said Phil Krinkie, a former GOP lawmaker and president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.
Krinkie said there's no reason for state leaders to rush into anything. He also said they should consider another option: not building a stadium at all.
"Their responsibility is to the taxpayer, not to the Vikings," he said. "Mr. Mondale has a fiduciary responsibility to run the facility which he was appointed to run, not to go negotiate with the Vikings about building them a billion-dollar palace."