Ramsey County bids for Vikings stadium: 'We're not dead yet'by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — On the eve of Gov. Mark Dayton's deadline for Vikings stadium bids, Ramsey County officials say they're going to sweeten their effort to win the NFL sweepstakes and take on their crosstown rivals.
"We're not dead yet," said Deputy County Manager Heather Worthington, who is on the team that is hammering out the proposal. They're still working on it, albeit in the shadow of the stadium debate in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis is expected to offer its own plan, either at the current Metrodome site or near the Basilica of St. Mary. Minneapolis is pledging millions in public subsidy, and says the city's transit and amenities make it the best home for the NFL. They also say the dome site is $200 million cheaper than any other site.
Even Shakopee made a bid Wednesday, with a vacant parcel kitty corner from the ValleyFair amusement park. They say it's the cheapest of all, at just over $900 million.
These and all other plans are soon headed for the governor's desk, to be sorted out ahead of the legislative session set to start Jan. 24.
With a $1.1 billion plan, Ramsey County has been struggling to stay in the financial running.
Lee Mehrkens, Ramsey County finance director, said they think they have secured more money to pay the bill. He won't specify where that extra revenue will come from, but said it will be detailed in the county's final paperwork Thursday.
The rest of the county's plan remains the same: a 430-acre site in Arden Hills, with a 65,000-seat roofed stadium beside Interstate 35W.
The county's effort has struggled since late last year, when lawmakers ruled out the county's offer for a half-cent sales tax. Instead, the county offered a food and beverage tax. They contend it isn't subject to a voter referendum and wouldn't hurt bars and restaurants.
"Even with our 3 percent food and beverage tax put in place in Ramsey County — the overall suite of taxes, if you will — in Ramsey County, will be much lower, than on the west side of the river," Mehrkens said.
But comparison is only for downtown Minneapolis, which has a 3 percent bar and restaurant tax, and not for the whole city.
Questions linger about the Ramsey County site itself. A former ammunition plant, it is considered some of the most polluted land in the state, and raises safety concerns.
Greg Mack, Ramsey County parks director and lead real estate negotiator for the stadium effort, acknowledges the problems, but said Minneapolis is the relative unknown compared to the Arden Hills site.
"It's a Superfund site, which was designated some years ago, but because of that, it's been poked and prodded and drilled," Mack said. "Frankly, it's the most studied piece of land in the state of Minnesota."
Mack says the federal government has promised to do whatever it takes to clean it up.
The county says the site may actually be a windfall, if the Vikings owners are allowed to build on land nearby.
"We think we can get commercial development of more than $200 million, which will raise somewhere north of $6 million a year for local property tax payers," Mehrkens said.
That would be the equivalent of reducing property taxes by 2.4 percent this year.
But that trade off — new taxes now for tax relief later — is a hard sell.
Restaurant owners like Stephanie Shimp say they don't believe the stadium will bring them any more business, and that new taxes will drive people away. She's part owner of the Highland Grill and two other restaurants in St. Paul.
"It's a very competitive issue because of the geography, the placement, the size of Ramsey County," Shimp said. "We could be vying for business with our neighbors who are just across the river in Dakota County, or just across the river in Minneapolis. It makes it a very unfair workspace."
Opponents of the Ramsey County plan have about 2,000 signatures on a petition for a stadium referendum. They think by next month they'll have enough to put the measure on the fall ballot.
In the meantime, Ramsey County and the rest of the would-be stadium hosts have until 5 p.m. Thursday to turn in their proposals for the governor's consideration.
- All Things Considered, 01/11/2012, 4:50 p.m.