Minneapolis still unsettled in stadium debate

While Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak promoted the Metrodome site for a Vikings stadium, business leaders are calling for a Vikings stadium on the western edge of downtown Minneapolis.

Business leaders in Minneapolis are calling for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium on the western edge of downtown, even though the city's mayor wants a new stadium on the current Metrodome site.

"I think it's still in play," Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat said Wednesday of the so-called "Downtown West" proposals — two potential sites that are both adjacent to the Twins' Target Field. Opat was a key player in the deal-making that got Target Field built, but has stayed mostly quiet as officials from the city of Minneapolis and Ramsey County jockey to be the site of a new football stadium.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said last week that rebuilding on the Metrodome land would be the cheapest option, after state lawmakers who will make the ultimate site decision pressed the mayor to choose between the three options. But Minneapolis business leaders muddied the waters Wednesday as they unveiled a 15-year development plan for downtown that included a "sports district" west of downtown that would take in Target Field, Target Center and a new football stadium.

"Imagine a renovated Target Center, new public gathering places, a Vikings stadium and a new transportation exchange all working in concert with Target Field — producing one of the liveliest areas in any American city," said John Griffith, executive vice president for property development at Target Corp. Griffith chaired a committee of the Minneapolis Downtown Council that assembled the 15-year plan.

Opat and Downtown Council leaders declined to say whether Minneapolis companies and business leaders would be willing to contribute financially to the cost of building a stadium that could cost as much as $1 billion. But Sam Grabarski, president of the Downtown Council, said the western sites offered more opportunities for private investment than are available around the Metrodome, which is on the eastern edge of downtown.

Grabarski envisioned public plazas, a retail pavilion, facilities designed to host events tied to a future Super Bowl, and major upgrades to the nearby Minneapolis Farmer's Market. "It's very possible these things would capture and encourage private sector participation in very tangible ways," Grabarski said.

Rybak said he's backing the Metrodome site because it would be cheaper and he believes it has more support on the Minneapolis City Council than the west-side sites.

"Right now I have to deal with the achievable," Rybak said. He said the west-side sites might have a better shot if the Vikings or the business community are willing to contribute more money.

Grabarski stressed that downtown business forces still want to work with the mayor to keep the Vikings in Minneapolis, and that the site decision is ultimately secondary. Under the council's 15-year plan, the Metrodome would be converted into a housing and retail area with a small, man-made lake.

The owners of the Vikings have stated their own preference for a fourth option, building on a parcel of land in the Ramsey County suburb of Arden Hills. Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team has numerous unanswered questions about the west side sites.

"The total cost, the footprint, the construction plan, what's included and what's not, who owns it and how is the land acquired, what are the environmental needs, how do you get 65,000 people in and out of there — we know these answers in Arden Hills and at the Metrodome site," Bagley said.

At a state Senate hearing earlier last month, several state lawmakers chided Rybak for the city's failure to get behind one of the three site proposals — which seemed to motivate his subsequent decision to back the Metrodome site.

Lawmakers have been working on a stadium bill, complete with a site decision and financing package, and are expected to release it in early January.

The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome, now known as Mall of America Field, expires Feb. 1.

Two developers in the Los Angeles area have asked Vikings ownership about selling the franchise, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that next season is too soon to put a team in the nation's second-largest market.

"It is a viable market in the sense that we know there are millions of fans in that market who want to see football return there," Goodell said at the league's owners meetings near Dallas. "But we want it to return in a successful way, and that requires a stadium. I don't think we'll be in a position to make that decision by 2012, but we'll continue to work with the different alternatives in Los Angeles and hope that we get a solution that will work."

The NFL also announced it will put more money in a stadium financing program that could contribute millions to a project in Minnesota. Goodell said again he's confident a new facility will be built.

"I don't sense it just from the ownership group. I sense it from the leaders in Minnesota also who I have been in regular contact with. Everyone wants to find a solution," Goodell said.

AP Pro Football Writer Jaime Aron in Irving, Texas, contributed to this report.

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