Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that a legislative vote on a Minnesota Vikings stadium package could be in jeopardy unless lingering questions are answered about all three main potential sites.
Dayton had been expected to state a clear site preference for the team's long-sought replacement to the Metrodome, choosing between two possible locations in downtown Minneapolis and one in suburban Ramsey County. Instead, the Democratic governor said all three plans as currently proposed are inadequate.
With momentum on the stadium push hard to come by, Dayton's comments appeared to muddle the issue further, though he expressed optimism that a deal could still come together soon.
"The longer it takes to finalize a proposal with a single site" as well as a definitive financing plan, Dayton said, "the less likely it is that a stadium will be approved by the Legislature in the upcoming session and, thus, this year."
The Legislature convenes for its 2012 session next week, and the fate of a new stadium is expected to dominate the attention of lawmakers. The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome has expired and team owners have said that 30-year-old facility is no longer profitable enough compared to other NFL facilities. It's raised fear among fans that no new stadium could drive the team to another city.
While Dayton has been a strong stadium supporter, he said all three top options continue to be plagued by questions and uncertainties. The Ramsey County proposal to build a $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills, though preferred by the Vikings, currently calls for nearly a third of the funding on a proposed county sales tax increase that leading state lawmakers refuse to sign off on.
Dayton refused to declare the Ramsey County plan dead, but said it could only go forward if the Vikings increase their pledged share from about $400 million to $700 million; or if Ramsey County leaders find another way to come up with nearly $300 million without raising taxes.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the team would not contribute that much.
Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, who has pushed the stadium plan, suggested no other possible funding option but refused to abandon the county's bid. "We're not counting ourselves out," he said.
That would leave two possible sites in Minneapolis, either rebuilding at the current Metrodome site or another site on the other side of downtown Minneapolis near the Basilica of St. Mary Catholic Church, not far from the Minnesota Twins' Target Field. Dayton said a third Minneapolis site, near the city's Farmer's Market, is no longer under active discussion.
Dayton said the Metrodome site does not offer the same economic development opportunities as are offered across town, though he noted serious concerns raised by the Basilica's rector. The Rev. John Bauer said Wednesday that church leadership do not want the stadium so close to their building, and that they are exploring legal options.
Dayton also expressed concern that Vikings owners have so far refused to say how much they are willing to put up for either of the Minneapolis options. Bagley declined Wednesday to answer that question, except to say it would be less than what's been pledged for the Ramsey County project.
A group of state lawmakers planned to meet Wednesday evening to continue discussing stadium options. Sen. Julie Rosen, the chief stadium bill author in the Senate, said she would "continue evaluating all serious proposals on their individual merits."
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