Arden Hills: A fun but expensive proposal

The Minnesota Vikings have entered into what amounts to a 13-day agreement with Ramsey County to build a new stadium, one that requires near-immediate action from the state legislature to approve a $1.057 billion proposal before it adjourns May 23. If not, all bets are off about the future of this project.

That's the upshot of a news conference Tuesday to announce the Vikings' long-awaited site selection. It's a 260-acre plot in suburban Arden Hills, about 10 miles north of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, near the former Twin Cities Army Ammunitions Plant that has been abandoned for decades. The proposed stadium would have 65,000 seats, a retractable roof and room for 21,000 parking spaces. It would be publicly owned but privately operated by the Vikings.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf called Arden Hills "an ideal site" but admitted it was chosen, in part, because two other targeted sites offered minimal interest. The Farmers Market site near Target Field was a non-starter because its ruling government body, Hennepin County, bowed out of the running. And it's clear the Vikings didn't take seriously a frantic proposal from the city of Minneapolis to rebuild the Metrodome site.

But if the Vikings and Ramsey County leaders are unable to win legislative approval before May 23, there would be nothing binding either side to the agreement moving forward. Asked several times about the issue, neither Wilf nor Ramsey County commissioner Tony Bennett would offer a commitment beyond this month. Their non-answers at least opened the possibility for a new bidding process this fall or next winter.

I give the Vikings credit for putting forward an exciting, if expensive, proposal, one that had former coach Bud Grant proclaiming that he was ready to "bring on Green Bay." Tailgating and the potential for outdoor football, with a choice of closing the roof when necessary, sounds like a win-win to me.

But I don't think anyone has a feel for whether the proposal will be taken seriously by a state legislature that continues to wrestle over state budget overruns, especially a proposal that is at least $150 million more expensive than one introduced a day earlier. A few additional points along those lines:

  • The retractable roof wasn't the only surprise. The Vikings' offer of $407 million was nearly double what they have previously committed to stadium projects.

  • According to a news release, Ramsey County would raise $350 million through a 0.5 percent sales tax. Bennett said he had the votes to pass the tax on his county board.

  • The state of Minnesota would contribute $300 million through user-fee taxes.

  • There is some disagreement, or at least negotiating room, on the cost and necessity of road improvements to access the site. Gov. Mark Dayton estimated the road costs at $175 million to $240 million. Bennett said the work can be done for much less and offered to underwrite a 20-year loan to the state that would require $7 million annual payments, including interest. Combine the stadium cost with infrastructure and roads, and you're exceeding $1.2 billion.

  • There was no mention of an NFL contribution toward the $407 million the Vikings committed. We've discussed the NFL's exhausted G-3 program. I'll endeavor to find out if the Vikings are including an estimated payment from a replenished G-3 as part of their contribution.

I know some of you think I'm a bah-humbug stadium observer, but I've been watching this roller coaster for almost 12 years. I cringed Tuesday afternoon while reading celebratory tweets from fans who believe this issue is solved. At best, the Vikings are at halftime.

Selecting a site and proposing a financing plan are fundamental building blocks, not finishing touches. Much of this discussion will be wasted breath unless the Minnesota state legislature jumps on board. We'll know in 13 days.