Vikings' Wilf, other stadium proponents dismiss study's stadium site questions
ST. PAUL Despite a study released Wednesday showing a proposed Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills may take more time and money than its planners imagine, key players in the stadium process said they remain committed to the site and that the...
Despite a study released Wednesday showing a proposed Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills may take more time and money than its planners imagine, key players in the stadium process said they remain committed to the site and that the report's release should speed up negotiations.
"We feel very, very optimistic that this will get done," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf told reporters at an afternoon news conference. The report, a "risk analysis" of the site, confirms "what we had thought from Day One, that this site is ideal, and that the costs...are close to being solvable," Wilf said.
Gov. Mark Dayton was out of the state Wednesday but released a statement saying the report, which he ordered, had provided "essential information."
Dayton said he plans to meet in the next few days with "the Vikings owners, legislative leaders, local officials and other concerned parties."
Former state Sen. Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and Dayton's point man on the stadium, said the report defines more clearly what putting a stadium in Arden Hills would involve. Mondale said it clears the way to craft a "state position" to merge with the Vikings' and Ramsey County's plan.
The report is "extremely helpful" in removing several risks, Mondale said, chiefly by helping solidify the estimate for off-site transportation costs at around $101 million. An earlier estimate had pegged the costs at $175 million, he said.
Mondale, the Vikings and Ramsey
County officials continued to insist Wednesday that Arden Hills has no competition, but Dayton indicated he would be open to a Minneapolis site as well. Plans for stadiums in at least three sites in that city have been proposed.
"I am willing to support a stadium in either Arden Hills or Minneapolis," Dayton said in his statement, "as long as the project's financing, including any contingencies, is clearly defined and agreed upon by the representatives of the affected parties. I have no current preference for the means to finance either the state's share or the local partner's share of the project, except that no state tax revenues may be used, and the funds necessary to pay off any public debt must be both guaranteed and sufficient."
Asked whether Dayton plans to call a special session to pass a stadium bill before next year's legislative session, Mondale said: "I don't like to speak for my boss, but he's engaged; his sleeves are rolled up, I can assure you; and he wants to move forward as quickly as possible."
Dayton believes a stadium bill would be more difficult to do in 2012, an election year, Mondale said. That, plus the costs of delaying construction, have created "a sense of urgency," he said.
"Having said that," Mondale noted, "consensus is not exactly in the air these days."
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the lead lawmaker on stadium issues in the House, said if Dayton does call a special session, "realistically, it probably has to happen before Thanksgiving" or people's schedules will become too complicated.
He said he hadn't seen the report but wasn't aware of anything in it that would rule out Arden Hills as a site.
Several options are being discussed for how the state would come up with its $300 million share of the project, Lanning said.
Under a $1.1 billion stadium plan for Arden Hills crafted by the Vikings and Ramsey County Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega, the county would kick in $350 million through a 0.5 percent sales tax; the state would contribute $300 million; and the Vikings would put in at least $407 million. The team said Tuesday that number was up to more than $420 million.
The 181-page report, prepared by the Metropolitan Council and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and released at Met Council offices in downtown St. Paul, does not make a judgment about the Arden Hills project but identifies three main challenges to the plan:
- The schedule is "aggressive" and "unrealistic."
Remediation of the parcel -- the vacant Twin Cities Army Ammuntion Plant is the largest Superfund site in the state -- has "significant uncertainties," and stadium backers should plan at least for a one-year delay, meaning the stadium would open in 2016 at the earliest. The additional cost of a year's delay is estimated at $46 million.
Instead of the $30 million in remediation costs planned for by the county and the Vikings, "a more realistic estimate" is $23 million to $70 million, the report said.
- Funding for $39 million of the project costs is not identified. Added to the $46 million for delaying a year, the "potential total gap" becomes $85 million.
- The proposed 0.5 percent sales tax for Ramsey County would give St. Paul the highest sales tax in the state -- 8.125 percent -- and could hamper the ability of the county and region to pursue other projects.
The tax, which would be exempted from a state law requiring a public referendum, and a proposed $20 motor vehicle tax are enough to fund the county's $350 million portion, but the county would likely need to find additional revenues to cover cost overruns of up to $58 million.
Appearing at a news conference with Vikings officials in the basement of the Ramsey County Courthouse, Bennett and Ortega disputed the report's key findings.
"All the issues raised in the Metropolitan Council's Vikings stadium review have been previously identified by Ramsey County and the Minnesota Vikings and can be managed within the budget and schedule we originally announced," Bennett said.
The stadium will be able to open in 2015, he said.
And Ortega said he's confident the $350 million from the county will be sufficient.
Reaction from other commissioners was mixed.
Board chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt said she and fellow Commissioner Janice Rettman remain opposed to a countywide tax to fund the Arden Hills proposal, but neither commissioner had seen the new Met Council report as of Wednesday afternoon.
Commissioner Jan Parker, a stadium supporter, said she hadn't seen the report and would prefer a statewide funding proposal, but "I really do think that the Arden Hills site is a really good site for the stadium."
Commissioner Jim McDonough supports the proposal. Commissioner Toni Carter hasn't decided.
Vikings owner Mark Wilf sent a letter to the Met Council and sports facilities commission saying the report "raises some questions and worst-case scenarios" but that the team is "encouraged with the overall positive findings."
He said the team has "identified a contractor who may be willing to take the responsibility to clean and demolish the site within the time frames and costs identified at the low-end cost. The schedule is aggressive, but achievable."
He said the contribution and cost-overrun responsibilities "are currently being negotiated with state leadership."
Asked about the potential project delay, Zygi Wilf said "it's important to get it done by 2015. If it so happens that time takes us to 2016, we'll deal with that situation, but I do not believe that that extra time will have as severe impact as the report shows."
Wilf said he's not getting frustrated with the pace of progress.
"We know that it's a long process," he said, "and we have the patience to work it through."
Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development, said it's time for the state to clarify what its contribution will be.
"This conversation has gone on for more than 10 years. The issues are clear. What we need to do is get the leadership in the room, with the team and the county, and work out the final details."
Asked about Dayton's statement leaving the door open to a Minneapolis site, Wilf said "we're working on Arden Hills."
The Arden Hills site got a boost Tuesday when the Ramsey County Charter Commission voted 10-6 against asking county voters whether to write an amendment into the county charter blocking sales tax funding for a new stadium.
But that doesn't mean the ballot effort is dead.
Andy Cilek, president of the conservative Minnesota Voters Alliance, said his group plans to collect the signatures necessary to get an anti-stadium question on the Ramsey County ballot.
"We've already started," Cilek said Wednesday.
At a glance
A Metropolitan Council risk analysis released Wednesday finds three major problems with the plan to build a Minnesota Vikings stadium on a 430-acre parcel at the vacant Twin Cities Army Ammuntion Plant in Arden Hills:
- The land transfer and site remediation is likely to take longer and cost more than anticipated, meaning the stadium wouldn't be able to open in 2015.
- It's not clear how $39 million of the $1.1 billion project would be funded.
- The proposed 0.5 percent sales tax for Ramsey County is not enough to cover potential cost overruns.
These findings were disputed by Ramsey County officials. Read the full report at metrocouncil.org.
- "Assuming a high-range cost risk outcome, the County would be responsible for funding cost overruns of greater than $50 million. The County's excess net sales tax proceeds may not be a sufficient funding source for potential cost overruns."
-- "Stadium Proposal Risk Analysis," Metropolitan Council and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission
- "We and our financial advisers strongly disagree with this assessment. We are confident that our share of the project will be done within the sales tax."
-- Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett.
By the numbers
$46 million: Estimated annual additional cost of delay in stadium construction.
$39 million: Amount report claims remains unfunded between Vikings, Ramsey County and state.
$58 million: Potential cost overruns report says Ramsey County might face.
2015: Year the Vikings say the stadium could open; report says 2016 is more likely, or even 2017.
Distributed by MCT Information Services