Shakopee enters into Vikings stadium debate
By PATRICK CONDON
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings had a tepid reaction Wednesday to an unexpected late bid from a suburban Minnesota city looking to host the team's desired new stadium.
Officials from Shakopee, about 20 miles south of Minneapolis, threw themselves into the stadium sweepstakes just a day before officials from Minneapolis and from Ramsey County were expected to submit their final stadium pitches. Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers who support a public stadium subsidy for a replacement to the Metrodome set the deadline as they push to resolve the issue in a legislative session that begins in less than two weeks.
Shakopee's new mayor, Brad Tabke, said a 130-acre site has benefits lacking in both Ramsey County's suburban proposal and three possible sites in downtown Minneapolis. The site, near the ValleyFair amusement park, is between two state highways and has existing infrastructure, and carries no cleanup costs. He estimated it would cost about $920 million to build there, the cheapest of all the current proposals on the table.
In addition to the amusement park, Shakopee is home to the Canterbury Park horseracing track and a Renaissance Fair each summer. Mystic Lake, the state's largest tribal casino, is in the adjacent community of Prior Lake.
"We have 6 million people come to Shakopee every year for our attractions. We know how to handle a lot of people," said Tabke, who took office last week. He said the stadium would make his city a major entertainment destination for the entire Midwest.
But Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson said team officials, while appreciating the offer, see it as too late for serious consideration if state lawmakers are to vote on a stadium bill this year.
"Now is a time to drill in on a final site and get a solution in 2012," Anderson said.
In addition, Shakopee's proposal relies for a local funding source on a $45 million down payment, then $29 million a year in tax proceeds from the proposal to add slot machines at Canterbury Park. This so-called "racino" option has frequently been talked up as a stadium funding option, but state lawmakers who back it have struggled to assemble sufficient support among their colleagues in the face of opposition from gambling critics and casino-owning Indian tribes.
Dayton said Wednesday he had not yet seen the Shakopee proposal but that he was willing to look at it.
The Vikings prefer the Ramsey County option, on the site of a former Army ammunition plant in Arden Hills. Ramsey County backers have struggled to keep their bid alive amid difficulty in securing a local share of the total cost; the proposal to be unveiled Thursday is expected to rely chiefly on a food and beverage sales tax increase that's already inspired a petition drive by county residents hoping to sink it.
The Arden Hills proposal also carries the biggest overall price tag, estimated to cost about $1.1 billion.
Three separate sites in Minneapolis are also in play, including the preferred option by city leaders to rebuild at the current site of the Metrodome. Vikings officials have indicated a stronger interest in a site near the Basilica of St. Mary, a historic Catholic Church.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has pitched the Metrodome location as the cheapest of the options, pegging it to cost about $925 million. The Vikings said Wednesday it would cost the team $67 million, since they'd have to play for at least three years in the University of Minnesota's football stadium.
Rybak has proposed paying a Minneapolis local share by diverting proceeds from an existing city sales tax that pays off construction bonds on the local convention center. But he's also said that's only workable if lawmakers also divert a portion to a renovation project for Target Center, home of the NBA Timberwolves.
Rybak's spokesman, John Stiles, said the plan Minneapolis would submit Thursday will be for the Metrodome site.
"It will say the Metrodome remains the city's preferred site, but that we are open to discussions with the Vikings about other possibilities," Stiles said.
The Vikings have been seeking a new stadium to replace the Metrodome for nearly a decade, with team officials calling the 30-year-old stadium no longer sufficiently profitable compared to newer stadiums around the country. The team's lease there ran out at the end of the just-concluded season, raising concerns among fans that it raises the risk the team could move to another city seeking an NFL franchise.