Gov. Mark Dayton appeared on local CBS affiliate WCCO Sunday night to be interviewed by sports anchor Mark Rosen on his show "Rosen Sports Sunday." In the short interview, in which the governor didn't seem overly comfortable, he maintained that he wants the Vikings to stay in Minnesota and is "in lockstep" with the Legislature to commit $300 million to a stadium project. However, it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns for the proposed Arden Hills site.
While Dayton said he still supports a new stadium, he said significant questions remain about the cost of financing the road improvements needed to make it feasible to move high volumes of traffic on a highway exit that currently doesn't have nearly the number of vehicles that will be rolling in and out of a new stadium. Dayton said he believes the numbers being thrown out by his experts.
"I'll stand with the Commissioner of Transportation Tom Sorel," Dayton said. "He's a professional. They stand on their (figure of) $175 million to improve the access in and out of the stadium and the highways that are connected to it. The Vikings have a lower figure of $80 million, but MnDOT's analysis is that that would only do the access in and out and wouldn't deal with the congestion on the highway."
Dayton said he was surprised to see the Arden Hills site move to the top of the list, but said he has his mind changed when he spoke with Zygi Wilf 10 days ago over dinner and he pointed out that the site in question had long since been abandoned and was rotting land that is currently doing nothing that can be transformed into a vibrant part of the Twin Cities metro area.
"I was surprised, but I heard Mr. Wilf on (May 5) speak impressively about his vision for this site," Dayton said. "It's an abandoned site. It would be a fabulous development situation if they could not only put a stadium there, but also develop the rest of the property."
Dayton said there are still issues to be hammered out, among them being that, under the current plan, the Vikings would reap the harvest of revenues generated at the site. Rosen pointed out that the Vikings would pay 90 percent of the operating cost, but Dayton had a counterpoint.
"And 100 percent of the profits," Dayton said. "That's why we have to get down to the brass tacks."
Dayton balked at the notion of approving a stadium without cost figures on the road construction firmly in place, saying that the questions surrounding the actual cost need to be worked out – whether in phases or in total.
"We need to have an agreement of the figure so we know the scope of the project," Dayton said. "MnDOT is solid on $175 (million) and it would go up to $240 (million) for the future development for the northernmost part of the parcel. That would be in the future. That would be part of the next stage in development. We have to have a clear understanding of which party has which responsibility, how much it's going to cost and then how we're going to divide up the proceeds from the operation."
Despite the battle being waged across the Mississippi River between Ramsey County and Minneapolis, Dayton said he hasn't taken sides. His goal is simply to keep the Vikings from potentially leaving Minnesota.
"I'm evenhanded toward both sides," Dayton said. "I just want it to be in Minnesota. I want to keep the Vikings here. Minneapolis put together an excellent proposal. They did not involve the Vikings and I think that left the Vikings a little cold to the project. I think most of all, the owners – Mark and Zygi Wilf – are just very excited about the Arden Hills site and its potential."
He did, however, admit that that the Ramsey County site appears to be the only viable solution at this point of the game.
"I really think now it's the Arden Hills site," Dayton said. "If that falls through, Minneapolis would be the default (option)."
Rosen brought up that several other cities with as many critical funding issues or more than the Twin Cities, including Detroit, Indianapolis (the site of next year's Super Bowl), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Seattle, have all found ways to fund stadiums. He asked the question why has it taken so long to get it done here? Dayton was quick to point out the reason, putting blame firmly on the doorstep of his gubernatorial predecessor.
"The previous governor (Tim Pawlenty) didn't support the project," Dayton said. "I think that is the principal reason. There wasn't a deadline of the lease expiring at the end of this year and the collapse of the Metrodome added a sense of urgency."
Asked if he would potentially call a special session, Dayton said he would if there were multiple issues the required one. But he added that he wants to get the state's business done in eight days remaining in the 2011 session. That includes getting a stadium bill passed.
"I sure don't want to lose the Vikings," Dayton said.
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.
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