Vikings exec responds to governor: 'We need people to get behind this'
The Minnesota Vikings' point man on a $1.057 billion stadium project in Arden Hills came to the defense of the team's local partner on Sunday morning, shortly after comments surfaced from Gov. Mark Dayton that strongly suggested Ramsey County was getting a raw deal.
"I think we need to brief the governor a little bit more on the issue," said Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president of public affairs and stadium development, in an interview on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
"The question that (Dayton) raised relates to the operational control, and if you look at the deal, Ramsey County negotiated a hard bargain."
Announced at a lively media conference on Tuesday, the plan would call for the Vikings to contribute $407 million -- 39% of the total cost of the project -- while Ramsey County would contribute $350 million (33%), raised through a half-cent sales tax that has drawn scrutiny from state legislators who have yet to begin a series of hearings on the stadium bill introduced last month.
The state would be responsible for the other $300 million (28%), the amount Dayton has pledged for weeks if the Vikings found a local partner. But Dayton told the Star Tribune he is concerned the agreement cedes too much control and ongoing revenue to the Vikings and pins responsibility on the state for off-site road improvements transportation officials have pegged as high as $240 million.
"I could see why that would be appealing to the Vikings," Dayton told the newspaper. "I don't know why Ramsey County agreed to it."
Bagley pointed out $350 million is the same contribution Hennepin County made toward Target Field and, with Ramsey County "maxed out" at that number, Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf agreed to assume 90% of operating costs for the publicly owned facility in addition to their share of construction.
"We'll get some parking revenue, there's no doubt about that," Bagley said. "We also have some elbow room, some opportunity for us to look to the future, (create) a Viking destination, and the Wilfs and the Vikings will look forward to that.
"I can't speak for the governor in terms of his comment there, in terms of his comment about the county. But he knows that site has been sitting there empty for a long time. Here's a great opportunity to get it back into very productive use and clean up the site, get some road improvements up there, secure the team for the next generation, and Ramsey County gets a million people a year coming into their county, generating economic activity and the future development potential (for) the surrounding area."
As for transportation upgrades around the abandoned munitions plant, Bagley said months of work with officials from the state's department of transportation, Ramsey County Public Works and two traffic engineering firms produced estimates of $84 million to $120 million.
According to Bagley, there are "a lot of people at the Capitol, including transportation committee chairs in both the House and Senate, who believe that this was doable -- that the reason not to do the deal in Arden Hills should not be the roads."
Dayton's public shift on the issue with little more than a week remaining in the legislative session has been viewed by some as a passive show of support for the proposal unveiled one day earlier by the City of Minneapolis, which proposed an $895 million retrofitting of the Metrodome.
No Vikings officials attended that media conference, though, in part because they hadn't been involved in negotiating the figures presented. In fact, Bagley said, the team's contribution to that project increased from $375 million at a Friday meeting to $400 million at the Monday unveiling, not including operating losses for moving two or three seasons' worth of games to the smaller TCF Bank Stadium.
"Those are some of the issues that the governor's raised, but there's been zero scrutiny about the Minneapolis plan and tons of questions and scrutiny and hammering away about the Ramsey deal," Bagley said. "We've always said if you want to get this done, we need to roll up our sleeves and push to get it done. It's a lot easier to kill something than it is to pass something, and we need people to get behind this instead of keep throwing up roadblocks on all this."
The legislative session is scheduled to end on May 23, although a special session may be called if lawmakers can't resolve a $5 billion budget shortfall. It's possible a Vikings stadium bill could be considered then or at another special session in the fall.