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Updated: May 10th, 2011 3:05pm
'Football season in Arden Hills:' Vikings, Ramsey County reveal deal

'Football season in Arden Hills:' Vikings, Ramsey County reveal deal

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have their local partner. Now it's up to the state legislators to determine if they're willing to pay their share.

Tuesday's media conference felt more like a pep rally as Ramsey County officials announced they've agreed to partner with the Vikings on a retractable-roof, multipurpose stadium project that would cost $1.057 billion, including $884 million for the stadium and $173 million for on-site infrastructure, parking and environmental costs.

"It's football season in Arden Hills," Ramsey County commissioner Tony Bennett said, drawing cheers from a small-but-vocal group of fans in the back row of a conference room at the Ramsey County Public Works Facility.

The Vikings would contribute $407 million -- 39% of the total cost -- toward the project, which would be completed on an abandoned munitions site in the northern suburb of Arden Hills. The county would commit $350 million (33%) through a half-cent sales tax, and the state would be asked to pay $300 million (28%) through a variety of usage-based taxes.

"We believe we have selected the ideal site here in Arden Hills for a new stadium in Minnesota," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said.

However, the state must approve its share of the funding for the project to move forward. The Legislature has yet to hold hearings on the stadium bill introduced last month, and the session ends on May 23.

Gov. Mark Dayton has indicated he'd back up to $300 million in state contributions for the stadium project and urged Wilf in recent weeks to lock up a local partner. But Dayton also has expressed reservations about the Arden Hills site, in large part because of off-site infrastructure concerns. Transportation upgrades alone could total $240 million.

Wilf -- who disputed the need for major transportation changes -- said he spoke with the governor by phone on Tuesday morning and "he indicated to me that he was in support of making sure that the Vikings have a home. We feel very confident that when we do make our case on the Hill ... that our argument and the site selection and everything that goes with our home will be carefully scrutinized and made sure that we would get this deal completed."

The space provided by the Arden Hills site would be enough for 21,000 parking spaces, according to the team. Wilf repeatedly referenced a return to "the old traditions of tailgating and a full-day experience" that would be difficult to replicate if the team chose instead to pursue a stadium on the existing site of the Metrodome.

The team wasn't even represented at the City of Minneapolis' media conference on Monday, when Mayor R.T. Rybak announced a plan that would ask the team to pay 45% of the bill for an $895 million stadium built there, or about $400 million. Team officials expressed concerns about that plan in part because it would force the team to play or three seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, impacting revenue, and Wilf said Minneapolis officials didn't approach the team until Friday.

On Tuesday, the Vikings sent a large contingent including owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, coach Leslie Frazier and legendary coach Bud Grant, who said he recalled hitchhiking past old munitions site as a boy.

"It's almost like fate has saved this for the Vikings," Grant said. "We're going to take advantage of it -- and bring on Green Bay."

About a dozen fans in Vikings jerseys and several cheerleaders greeted the group as it arrived, then followed them inside for a roughly 1-hour session with reporters that included the viewing of a team history film.

"The right thing has been done," Frazier said. "This is a great day for all Minnesota Vikings fans."

Mark Wilf said conversations with Arden Hills began about a year ago. The goal is to bring other events, including the Super Bowl and the Final Four, as well as lure a Major League soccer team.

The project also would include a Vikings hall of fame, Zygi Wilf said, as well as other "facilities for entertainment" that would contribute to a "world-class, full-day football experience."

Asked if there are other development plans, such as a shopping mall, Wilf said, "We primarily focused on the stadium, the parking, what we could provide as venues as part of the stadium, and we felt that whatever ancillary development took place would take place down the road after this would get done and worked out."

So, now it's on to the state Capitol, where the team and county officials have a little less than two weeks to try to give the project its third leg.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
In this story: Leslie Frazier
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