A year ago, Arden Hills was the site of choice

Happy anniversary, Minnesota Vikings. One year ago today, the Vikings announced they had entered into a partnership they hoped would flourish.

There were all the signs of happiness: Smiles, hugs and the big announcement. The Vikings and Arden Hills were moving in together. All they had to do was clean up their fixer-upper and get a great big wedding present from state of Minnesota.

Only, now, one year later, the partner has changed, counselors have become involved and, well, things have gotten pretty high-maintenance.

This was the scene May 10, 2011: The Vikings were in a large room in the City of Arden Hills announcing their partnership with Ramsey County to build a “world-class facility”– the oft-spoken phrase of owner Zygi Wilf. The Vikings committed $407 million  (44 percent of the stadium cost and 39 percent of the overall cost) to a total land project that would cost $1.057 million – $884 million for the stadium and $173 million for infrastructure costs, including parking and environmental needs.

“It’s been hard work over the last couple months to get to this point,” Vikings owner Wilf said. “This is not only a special day, but I’d have to say a very exciting day.”

After that, things got messy. The day before the Ramsey County partnership was officially declared, the City of Minneapolis announced a hurried plan that didn’t have the support of the Vikings. The ensuing 10 months brought a tug-of-war between the two communities. The Vikings wanted the Ramsey County deal, which would allow for a bigger footprint and likely hundreds of millions of dollars in surrounding development opportunities for the Wilfs, who have made their fortune in commercial real estate.

But the political power structure in Minneapolis eventually won out. It was the only option that seemed to stand a chance of surviving, and the Vikings were essentially forced to switch partners after dancing with Ramsey County. Somehow, the Vikings had to “settle”for the cheaper date – the “local contribution”(Minneapolis versus Ramsey County) decreased significantly. Ramsey County’s $350 million commitment, built off proposed tax increases in the community, turned into a $150 million commitment from Minneapolis, built off the eventual transfer of convention center taxes to the new stadium project.

Eventually, the Vikings were able to negotiate a prenuptial agreement between themselves, the state and Minneapolis. The Vikings’ commitment went from $407 in Ramsey County, where they would have made more money, to $427 million in Minneapolis. Stuck in a high-maintenance relationship, the Vikings are being asked to give even more.

Despite having the deal in place with Gov. Mark Dayton, the Monday session in the Minnesota House and Tuesday session in the Senate both called for further increases in the team’s share. The House called for $105 million more from Vikings, reducing the state’s share by that much. The Senate called for $25 million more, and $50 million was the eventual settling point when the bill came out of committee Wednesday night.

Interestingly, those weren’t the only amendments testing the waters in the halls of Minnesota’s legislature. Among the more than 50 changes floated this week was a call to reopen the site selection and several mentions of Arden Hills, as well as one seeking more than $2 million on the Minneapolis stadium bill to clean up the Arden Hills site, a polluted former Army munitions plant.

It seemed everyone wanted a piece of the Minnesota’s most eligible bachelor. Some were throwing bouquets, others were slinging mud; but even legislators who opposed publicly subsidizing a stadium made sure to state for the record that they were fans and wanted the team to stay, hoping that the Vikings would choose to spend lavishly on a date that wasn’t willing to go Dutch.

Still, as the Vikings celebrate or mourn (depending on your point of view) the one-year anniversary of their now-disbanded engagement party with Ramsey County, it did set some guidelines that have closely mirrored the new Minneapolis deal.

The proposed stadium on the Metrodome site still calls for 65,000 seats which would be expandable to 72,000 in order to comply with NFL guidelines for hosting a Super Bowl, an event that brought a $300 million impact to the Miami area in 2009. Other similar numbers that have survived from one year ago: 150 suites and 7,500 club seats, with the Vikings covering most of the operating costs, and a team Hall of Fame.

But there hasn’t been as much mention of the “game-day experience,”in other words ample room for tailgating in large parking lots. That simply won’t be as spacious on the Metrodome footprint, although it will likely be more prevalent than what is currently available surrounding the dome.

President and owner Mark Wilf called the possibility “an exciting vision that we believe is close to becoming a reality.”That was one year ago. That was in Ramsey County.

As reality finally arrives on May 10, 2012, it sure has taken on a different form.


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