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Vikings report offers mixed bag for Arden Hills, fuels stadium site speculation

Charley Shaw//October 12, 2011//

Vikings report offers mixed bag for Arden Hills, fuels stadium site speculation

Charley Shaw//October 12, 2011//

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Susan Haigh and Ted Mondale

Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commissioner Ted Mondale on Wednesday denied there are any “time bombs” in the much anticipated report on the risks and costs of building a Minnesota Vikings stadium on a contaminated former munitions site in Arden Hills.

But the numbers from the report, which Mondale’s agency prepared in conjunction with the Metropolitan Council at the request of Gov. Mark Dayton, will require the team and Ramsey County to come up with more cash in order to make progress at the Legislature. And that fact appears to lend credence to widely circulated reports that a renewed push from Minneapolis interests is in the works.

Earlier this year, Ramsey County and the Vikings announced an agreement for a $1.1 billion stadium at the north suburban site that would be financed by contributions from the county, the state and the Vikings owners.

A variety of unknowns about the site — ranging from costs of transportation infrastructure upgrades to soil cleanup — prompted Dayton to ask Mondale and Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh, who are both his appointees, to do an exhaustive analysis. The result is a 180-page analysis that alleviates some concerns and raises others.

Transportation improvement costs, which had been a major concern to state lawmakers after the deal was announced, are projected to be much lower than originally thought. The transportation costs associated with the stadium are estimated at $101 million, or about $70 million less than previous estimates.

“I feel very good about clearing that cloud up,” Mondale said.

But the costs of environmental cleanup to the former Army munitions grounds, which is Minnesota’s largest Superfund site, is significantly higher in the report.

The deal between the Vikings and Ramsey County pegs the cost of remediation on the 260-acre stadium site at $30 million. The report lays the cost between $23 million and $70 million.

“This is a very wide range,” Haigh acknowledged Wednesday, “and stems from the uncertainty as of today. …These cleanup costs cannot be contained by obtaining insurance.”

Another key finding of the report is that the Vikings and Ramsey County officials have underestimated the length of time it would take to complete the project. Said Haigh: “The current proposal calls for an opening of the stadium in 2015. We think that is unrealistic. 2016 or 2017 is more realistic.”

The report estimates the cost of a one-year delay in completion at $46 million, a liability that would be shared between the county and the team. All told, the report shows the project’s cost increasing by $123 million to $1.234 billion.

And while the report affirms the county’s capacity to come through with the $350 million it is currently projected to commit to the project, it also asserts that Ramsey County’s proposed 0.5 percent sales tax hike would not be enough to pay for cost overruns that could add up to another $58 million to the county’s tab.

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, who has been one of the leading political figures in promoting the Arden Hills deal, assailed the report.

“Every time Ramsey County and the Vikings meet the requirements set by the governor,” Bennett said, “another hurdle is created, the latest being the Met Council study that largely replicates analytical work that has already been done. This project seems to be suffering a death by a thousand paper cuts. Further delays will result in additional costs. Time is running out.”

Meanwhile, Minneapolis business interests have been exploring options to attract the Vikings stadium to a location on the western side of the city’s downtown. The report’s release was preceded by widespread speculation that the findings would torpedo the Arden Hills project and pave the way for a stadium in Minneapolis.

Mondale denied that the report rules Arden Hills out.

“It’s just the opposite,” Mondale said. “This is an attempt to try and put a bill together that we can pass at the Arden Hills site.”

When asked if Minneapolis would be a better location from the standpoint of cost and logistics, Mondale replied: “We’re working on and studying the Arden Hills site.”

But the wording of a statement from Dayton after the report’s release only buttressed rumors that a renewed Minneapolis stadium play is taking shape. Regarding the report, which made reference only to the Arden Hills plan, Dayton said (emphasis added), “I am willing to support a stadium in either Arden Hills or Minneapolis as long as the project’s financing, including any contingencies, is clearly defined and agreed upon by the representatives of the affected parties.”

Dayton added: “I have no current preference for the means to finance either the state’s share or the local partner’s share of the project, except that no state tax revenues may be used, and the funds necessary to pay off any public debt must be both guaranteed and sufficient.”

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