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New Vikings stadium still facing hurdles

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By Christian West

The Vikings were able to dodge one bullet in their quest for a new stadium, but they are still staring the down the barrel on another.

Tuesday night, the Ramsey County Charter Commission voted against putting the controversial Ramsey County sales tax to a voter referendum in November 2012, clearing the path for the tax to be approved.

The 0.5 percent increase in the sales tax would pay for Ramsey County's $350 million share of the $1.1 billion new stadium in Arden Hills. If the tax had been put to referendum, the delay could have increased the price of the stadium by $50-60 million due to different construction and cleanup issues. There also were questions about its ability to pass referendum, given the public outcry against it at a Charter Commission meeting in September.

However, while the Vikings' stadium avoided that landmine, a joint report by the Metropolitan Council and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission says that the proposed timeline for building the Vikings' Arden Hills site is too aggressive, among other issues.

The proposed site in Arden Hills is a polluted former Army ammunitions plant that must be cleared and cleaned before construction can begin. That process could take longer than the current timeline projects, endangering the scheduled stadium opening in 2015. The report believes 2016 or ’17 is more realistic and estimates that a two-year delay could end up costing an additional $92 million.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement saying that he still supports finding a way to keep the team in Minnesota with a new building but that the Vikings "must tell us whether they will accept the possibly longer timeline to build the stadium at their preferred Arden Hills site, and whether they will pay for any resulting additional costs."

Further, the report said there is a funding gap of $39 million under the current plan that is still unresolved.

The report also questioned the proposed sales tax saying: "The presence of this tax may compromise the County's and region's ability to finance other projects."

Ramsey County commissioner Tony Bennett disagreed with that final assessment, saying this would not hurt the County's financial standing.

"Our financial people disagree with that," he said. "We [Ramsey County] have a triple-A bond rating."

Bennett affirmed that after this report, he is "confident" that the project can move forward. His biggest concern is the actions of the state legislature, which needs to put a final bill together and get it to Gov. Dayton to be put into law before anything can begin at the site.

"They're the third leg of the stool," Bennett said. "Until they start to negotiate, get a bill written and to the governor, nothing is going to happen."

While the Vikings were able to avoid the sales-tax referendum, nothing is set in stone as of yet. The stadium bill has stalled in the legislature, which means nothing can move forward officially.

Minnesota state representative John Kriesel, a supporter of the stadium bill in the state legislature, said that if the sales tax is that unpopular, people need to look for different solutions to pay for it.

"Instead of just shouting down ideas, we should find new ways to pay for it," he said. "If people don't like the sales tax, we can find something else."

 

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