In a move that wasn't overly surprising, Hennepin County officials informed Gov. Mark Dayton in a letter Thursday that the county won't be able to be a "local partner" in a new Vikings stadium. Hennepin County, by far the largest county in the state that includes the City of Minneapolis, Bloomington and the tax-generating pot of gold at Mall America, stood up when the state wouldn't and passed a funding bill for a Twins stadium. Their move was forced upon them when the Twins allowed themselves to be contracted from Major League Baseball. Faced with that prospect and a State Legislature sitting on its hands, Hennepin County stood up to save baseball in Minnesota and passed a countywide sales tax increase to pay for the investment.
The letter was sent to Dayton by Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat saying that the county would no longer be pursuing an agreement to be a local partner with the Vikings.
At about the same time, the Wilf family was meeting with Ramsey County officials and, according to one Ramsey County Commissioner, the two sides are very close on reaching an agreement for a new stadium on the abandon munitions plant site in Arden Hills.
In a story in The St. Paul Pioneer Press Thursday, Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega was quoted as saying, "We are very, very close to a full proposal with the Vikings. We have a few i's to dot and t's to cross. The big nut to crack, so to speak, is the transportation issue."
That "nut" is apparently getting easier to crack. The infrastructure costs to increase accessibility in the I-694/I-35W corridor were initially estimated at $240 million. More recent projections have cut that number in half.
A third potential suitor remains the City of Minneapolis. However, the city, which is already paying its portion of the Twins stadium as a city within Hennepin County, is focusing almost all of its attention on the current Metrodome site. It has been widely reported – both here and elsewhere – that the Vikings would be hurt financially by a temporary move that would displace the team for at least two or three seasons at a non-NFL worthy venue like TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
With Hennepin County out of the mix and the patching of the collapsed Metrodome roof continuing, the best long-term answer would appear to be a stadium proposal in Arden Hills. If that deal falls through or stadium opponents drag their feet while bogged down in the current budget bill malaise, the Vikings will become unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2011 season.
Typically, the Vikings have to make the hard decisions on whether to sign a player that will be an unrestricted free agent to a long-term contract. Minnesota has taken over that job and the Vikings organization could become a franchise version of Adrian Peterson. On the open market, they have a lot of value – almost surely more than they would make to stay in Minnesota and sign a "hometown discount." There remains a chance the Vikings won't hit free agency, but, if nothing is done in the next two weeks, it will happen and then the leverage may be much more on the other side of things.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.