ARDEN HILLS, Minn. – The owners of the Minnesota Vikings said Tuesday the team's future is in the suburbs, announcing a deal with Ramsey County to collaborate on a $1.1 billion retractable-roof football stadium about 10 miles north of their current home at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.
The deal between the Vikings and Ramsey County, announced to great fanfare at a news conference near the site, appeared to end the debate over the location of the team's long-sought stadium — at least from the Vikings' perspective. But the team and its supporters still face a tough fight for approval in the dwindling days of Minnesota's legislative session.
The Vikings and Ramsey County proposed a stadium at the site of a former Army ammunition plant in the suburban city of Arden Hills. They said they want to build an $884 million stadium, with an additional $173 million for onsite infrastructure, parking and environmental cleanup, for a stadium that would open in spring 2015.
The Vikings would pay $407 million of construction costs, or 39 percent, while Ramsey County would pay $350 million, which is 33 percent. But the necessary third leg of the funding, a proposed $300 million from the state of Minnesota plus an additional $100 million in transportation improvements to the area, was in question after a key state lawmaker called that total tab a "non-starter."
Sen. Julie Rosen, the chief Senate sponsor of the bill, said there was no way she could get colleagues in the Legislature to support a state commitment higher than $300 million. She also pointed out state estimates released earlier Tuesday pegged the transportation upgrades to cost at least $175 million.
"There are a lot of issues that need to be worked out with the Ramsey County site," said Rosen, a Republican from Fairmont. A proposal released a day earlier by Minneapolis city leaders to keep the team downtown is "still definitely on the table," she said.
Still, the tone was triumphant as Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, Ramsey County and Arden Hills officials and Vikings greats, including former coach Bud Grant and retired player Jim Marshall, rolled out the new proposal.
"We're going to create a Vikings destination in Arden Hills," Zygi Wilf said, saying the size of the 2,400-acre site offers plenty of room for tailgating — a longtime fan complaint about the confined Metrodome site — as well as a Vikings museum. He called the envisioned stadium "a daylong experience for Vikings fans, their families and friends."
"It's almost like fate has saved this spot for the Vikings," said Grant, who led the team to four Super Bowls in the 1960s and '70s. "We're going to take advantage of this, and bring on Green Bay."
The added acreage in Arden Hills also offers the Wilfs, who made their fortune in real estate development, the chance to eventually add restaurants, hotels and other amenities.
The proposal would give local leaders the chance to spiff up what Commissioner Rafael Ortega said is currently the largest Superfund site in the nation.
"For Ramsey County, this chance is once in a lifetime," Ortega said. His colleague, Commissioner Tony Bennett, touted what he said would be 7,500 construction jobs during the three-year construction period. The county share would come from a half-cent Ramsey County sales tax increase, and Bennett said he'd already lined up the necessary votes on the county board.
The county commissioners said it was fair for the state to also pay for the nearby road improvements. But state Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said earlier in the day that his agency doesn't consider fixing those roads a priority for at least the next few years.
The Vikings have been pressing for a new stadium for years, but the team's push took on new urgency after the Metrodome roof collapsed under the weight of a December snowstorm and as the team plays out the final season on its lease. It is one of four NFL franchises thought to be possibilities to relocate to the vacant Los Angeles market.
The stadium discussion had been largely put off at the Capitol as legislators struggle to resolve a $5 billion state deficit. It picked up speed last week, with Dayton saying he had met privately with the Wilfs and that he was ready to sign a stadium bill.
Rosen's bill calls for the state to raise its share with a 10 percent state sales tax on sports memorabilia, a sales tax on luxury seats at the new stadium and on digital video recorders, and proceeds from stadium naming rights and a football-themed state lottery game.
"The vast majority of Ramsey County legislators don't support it," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville. "They're smoking up the wrong pipe. The public is not for this if you poll them, and if they are they want it to be as cheap as possible."
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dave Thompson, a Republican from Lakeville, said a stadium that relies on new taxes "in no way" helps average households with their finances.
Dayton has said he would be willing to support either site, but like Rosen he said Tuesday he wouldn't support the state share exceeding $300 million.
Associated Press reporters Jon Krawczynski and Martiga Lohn contributed to this report.