Stadium road upgrades to cost $131M

Published 8:55 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County face a $131 million hole in their $1.1 billion football stadium plan at the Capitol, the amount that state and county transportation officials agreed Wednesday it would cost to fix up roads near the proposed suburban site.

That’s less than the $175 million originally estimated by the state Department of Transportation, but still nearly half of the $300 million that Gov. Mark Dayton and key legislators insist is the cap on the state’s contribution to the stadium construction. The deal between the Vikings and Ramsey County officials initially assumed the state would contribute both $300 million and whatever transportation improvements are necessary.

That wasn’t the only obstacle facing the Vikings in their stadium push. Rep. Morrie Lanning, the bill’s chief House sponsor, said no stadium bill would start moving through the legislative committee process until after Dayton and GOP legislative leaders reach a still-elusive deal on the state budget.

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Those talks remained stalled Wednesday, and with lawmakers required to adjourn their regular session on Monday the prospects were increasing that both the budget and the stadium issue would get pushed into a special legislative session.

The initial disagreement over road improvement costs between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and road officials in Ramsey County had slowed stadium talks in recent days. In a letter to Dayton, state Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said it would cost $86 million for highway improvements and another $45 million to improve adjoining roads and interchanges.

Team vice president Lester Bagley said he was glad the state and county settled on a final number for transportation costs and hoped it would mean the project would move forward at the Capitol. Bagley said team officials, lawmakers and others were brainstorming ways to raise the additional $131 million.

“What’s left is $131 million,” Bagley said. “We’re trying to find creative financing solutions that fit the governor’s criteria that the state not exceed $300 million.”

In a letter Wednesday to Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, Dayton, Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont reaffirmed the state won’t spend more than $300 million — and that any road costs would fall under that cap.

The Democratic governor and the two Republican lawmakers have maintained a united front in recent days in their dealings with the stadium issue. But at a press conference Wednesday at the Capitol, two Republican senators who have been working on the state transportation budget criticized the governor on the issue.

“They seem to be more focused on the Vikings stadium than they are on the budget,” said Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo.

Dayton took issue with that charge. “It’s just ridiculous,” he said. “They’re the ones who couldn’t put a budget together.”

The proposal from the Vikings and Ramsey County calls for a $1.1 billion, 65,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof at the site of a former Army ammunition plant in Arden Hills, about 10 miles northeast of the team’s current home at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.

The team would kick in $407 million of that cost, Ramsey County would pay $350 million from a half-cent county sales tax increase, and the state would raise its $300 million from new statewide sales taxes on sports memorabilia, luxury seats and digital video recorders as well as naming rights, a Vikings-themed lotto game and an income-tax surcharge on NFL players.

Despite the team’s alliance with Ramsey County commissioners, some in the county are criticizing the venture. On Wednesday, top Democratic and Republican party leaders in the county teamed up to call the stadium a bad deal for their county.

In a joint statement, Ramsey County DFL Chairman Rod Halvorson and James Carson, the county GOP’s 4th Congressional District chairman urged party activists and citizens of Ramsey County to contact Dayton, state lawmakers from the county, and county commissioners to oppose what they called a “horrible agreement” between the team and members of the county board.

“It is simply wrong to force a $350 million sales tax onto the people and businesses of Ramsey County, especially without a vote of the people,” the two wrote.