Board votes to open stadium talks with Vikings

ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) - The Minnesota Vikings may have found a partner Tuesday in their bid for a new stadium, when a county board voted to explore what it would take to lure the team out of Minneapolis and into the suburbs.

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 to begin discussions with the team and state officials about building a new stadium at the site of a former Army ammunition plant in Arden Hills, about 10 miles northeast of Minneapolis. The vote makes Ramsey County the first municipality to officially express interest in hosting a new stadium as the Vikings seek to leave or replace the aging Metrodome.

Team officials say the Metrodome is outdated and no longer profitable as an NFL venue. With at least four sites under consideration, Ramsey County commissioners said the jobs and economic development that would come with a new stadium would outweigh the cost to county taxpayers, who would likely have to shoulder some of the construction costs.

“We have to create our own opportunities,” said County Commissioner Rafael Ortega. “This would create many jobs, which is critical. This is an opportunity to get a lot of folks hired.”

Vikings executives have toured the site, and team vice president Lester Bagley praised Tuesday’s vote as a positive step. But he was quick to caution that the Vikings have not committed to any site, and again said that the rebuilding on the site of the current stadium would be the most cost-efficient approach. Two other sites, one near the Minnesota Twins stadium and another in a suburb of northwest of the city, are also under consideration.

The Vikings are seeking a state financing package that would require the team to pay for no more than one-third of the cost of a new stadium. A new stadium would likely cost at least $700 million, and Gov. Mark Dayton said last week he’d like to see the team pay up to half the total bill.

The 2011 season is the last on the Vikings‘ lease at the Metrodome, and team officials have vowed not to play there after that. That’s raised fears the team could move to another city seeking an NFL franchise.

Bagley said Tuesday that if the stadium deal comes together this year, the Vikings might have to play up to three seasons at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium while a new stadium is built. He said the team is concerned about potential revenue losses during that time, and said the team estimates it lost between $12-18 million in December when the Metrodome’s roof collapse forced one home game to move to Detroit and another to TCF.

A portion of that loss will be covered by insurance, Bagley said.

The NFL is a hugely profitable business, and some residents and lawmakers say public money should not be used to subsidize league stadiums.

Greg Copeland, a St. Paul resident, interrupted Tuesday’s commission meeting by saying that if the county tries forcing taxpayers to shoulder any of the cost of building a stadium, he will try to overturn the decision through a referendum.

“Zygi, take your team and go somewhere else, or else write a check and build a stadium yourself,” said Copeland, referring to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.

Ramsey County officials stressed that Tuesday’s vote did little more than get them a seat at the negotiating table. They said the vote will allow the county to more thoroughly study the Arden Hills site and to address questions about pollution, infrastructure and other concerns.

Several Arden Hills council members at the meeting said they support the initial discussions but wouldn’t hesitate to interfere if they sense the city is getting a bad deal. County Commissioner Tony Bennett, who lives near the site, called it an “eyesore” and said previous efforts to develop it have failed. He pointed out that Wilf made his millions as a real estate developer.

“This property needs a jump start,” Bennett said. “If this doesn’t come together, it could be decades before we have another opportunity this good.”

Commissioner Janice Rettman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said the plan is too far-reaching.

“We’re making a decision here on limited information and a dream,” Rettman said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said he thinks the site of the current Metrodome makes the most sense. But with Hennepin County taxpayers helping fund the Twins stadium that opened last year and the city seeking state money to refurbish the Target Center basketball arena, he signaled openness to another approach.

“If building a stadium in Ramsey County with Ramsey County taxes works, we should be open to that,” Rybak said.

Bennett, who brought the idea to the board of commissioners, said he’s aware of concerns that the Ramsey County tax base couldn’t support such an ambitious and expensive venture. But he dismissed them.

“We absolutely have the wherewithal to do this,” Bennett said.

___

Associated Press sportswriter Dave Campbell in Eden Prairie, Minn., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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