Narrowing Stadium Options in Minneapolis, Sort Of

Sunday there was another Minnesota Vikings game and another loss. It's largely the same tale of missed opportunities and under-performance. I don't feel like writing an article about it--it makes me want to heave. Luckily for me, the Vikings' stadium situation is always good for material. Unfortunately, it also makes me want to heave, but I had to write something.

Last month lawmakers advised the city of Minneapolis to decide on a single site for a proposed Vikings' stadium rather than continuing to promote three sites (Metrodome, Farmers Market, and near the Basilica). So, after time and consideration, Minneapolis settled on the idea they originally presented to the Vikings almost half a year ago. Minneapolis has chosen to focus their efforts on building a new Vikings stadium on the Metrodome site. Yup, Minneapolis' plan is Retrodome--again.

Reviewing this latest twist in the Vikings' stadium quest after the jump.

Back in May, this idea, not developed with the Vikings, had the unfortunate timing to have been unveiled just a day before the Vikings unveiled a proposal to build a stadium on the TCAAP property in Arden Hills and partner with Ramsey County. Until that announcement, the suburban Ramsey County site was considered by many observing the stadium situation to be a long-shot at best, with Minneapolis perceived as the obvious location for a new stadium. Turns out Minneapolis had more competition from Arden Hills than observers thought.

The Vikings said they chose to partner with Ramsey County and build in Arden Hills because they felt the government-owned TCAAP location could provide fans with the best game day experience. A retractable roof would bring back outdoor football, and 20,000 parking spaces would bring back the tailgating tradition Vikings' fans used to have at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington. According to the proposal, building on a large hill on the property, a new stadium would have views of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, just 10 miles from both downtown areas. Not only would building on the TCAAP property develop one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land in Ramsey County, but it would also provide an opportunity to clean up the largest Super Fund site in Minnesota and require negotiating for the land with a single owner.

This decision, though the most thought-out proposal in terms of the team's desires for revenue and fan experience (because it's the only proposal that was developed with the Vikings), has met with political hurdles since being announced. It has been hard to read about the Vikings' struggles to advance the Arden Hills site without feeling the sneaking suspicion that the supposedly site-neutral governor, Mark Dayton, and various Minneapolis interests would make the Vikings' lives much easier if the team would just simply see the error of their ways and agree to a Minneapolis stadium location.

The thing I don't understand though is that if Minneapolis is so determined to woo the Vikings away from Arden Hills, then why have they decided to focus on the current Metrodome location? Of the Minneapolis locations, the Metrodome seemed the least likely to appeal to the Vikings.

After the Metrodome roof collapsed in December 2010, the Vikings scrambled to find locations for their final home games of the season, playing in Detroit at Ford Field and on the University of Minnesota campus at TCF Bank Stadium. In addition to the costs involved in making both Ford Field and TCF their "home" fields, the Vikings lost revenues they would have had at the Metrodome. That experience gave the team a good estimate of just how much revenue they stand to lose if they play their home games at TCF Bank Stadium rather than at the Metrodome while a new stadium is under construction at the Metrodome site. Losing game day revenue affects the team's ability to raise money to pay for its portion of the cost of a new stadium. So, building a new facility at the current Metrodome site represents a loss of revenue for the team at a time when maximizing revenue is of key importance--an odd way to persuade the team that Minneapolis is a better location.

Of the Minneapolis sites, the Metrodome location was the smallest of the three options. Not only that, but the area around the Metrodome is already developed, meaning there is little to no additional room for stadium expansion. It's hard to fathom how that site would afford the team the opportunity to enhance the fans' game-day experience through expanded tailgating near the stadium. It also seems unlikely that the Vikings would have the space for a team museum, something the team was hoping to establish.

Time and again since May, the Vikings have said that a plan involving the current Metrodome site is a non-starter, so why would Minneapolis city leadership decide to promote that site as the single Minneapolis stadium option? The only thing that makes sense to me is that it comes down to money and speed.

The Minneapolis sites at the Farmers Market and near the Basilica, although more capable of offering the fan experience the team favors, both would involve negotiating property sales with multiple owners. That can be time consuming, expensive, and a potential public relations nightmare if it becomes a battle of eminent domain with owners who oppose moving. The Metrodome does not present that challenge.

Because the Metropolitan Sports Facility Commission (MSFC) already owns the land that the Metrodome is on, it would eliminate the need to negotiate the sale of property and the uncertainty that could bring. It would also allow a Minneapolis site to avoid having to go through the site feasibility study Arden Hills was subject to (administered by the MSFC and the Metropolitan Council), since the site already supports a stadium. Any site study would take time, making it a challenge to bring the proposal before the state legislature in January.

When Ramsey County reached an agreement with the federal government on a sale price for the TCAAP property that included the cost of cleaning up the pollution on the site, it provided an advantage to the Arden Hills site that had seemed stalled after a county-wide sales tax increase was nixed. In going with a site that doesn't require any land acquisition costs or a site feasibility study, it would appear that the city of Minneapolis is trying to regain its lost momentum. And, while there is very little about the Metrodome site that would appeal to the Vikings, given the team's goals for a stadium site, it could be that this site choice has little to do with the Vikings and everything to do with making a stadium bill more palatable to Minneapolis-based political power in the state because the Metrodome site is cheap and is in Minneapolis.

So what are the Vikings to do? Cave to the pressure and agree to the Retrodome proposal in order to stay in Minnesota, or pray for a miracle and continue to pursue Arden Hills?

Here's an idea that won't be adopted, but one that makes me smile. Since the cost of acquiring the TCAAP property and cleaning up the pollution there has already been agreed upon between Ramsey County and the federal government, the Vikings could buy the property outright and build the cheaper open-air stadium they have favored from the beginning. Since the cost of an open-air stadium is significantly less than a roofed stadium (some have said a roof adds between $200-300 million to the stadium cost), the Vikings might be able to raise the cost of a stadium privately, the way the Dallas Cowboys did. As long as the Vikings are seeking public funds, they are going to be accountable and beholden to the state government. But if the Vikings work with Ramsey County and self-finance, then they can build the stadium they originally wanted, where they wanted it, and Minneapolis can go fly a kite.

Should be interesting to see how this issue progresses. And where it progresses.

Note: Since writing this, it has been reported on KSTP 5 Eyewitness News that other Minneapolis sites are still vying for the team. Apparently, the Minnesota Twins favor a Vikings stadium at the Minneapolis Farmers Market site. It would seem Minneapolis isn't as settled on a location as Mayor R.T. Rybak has suggested.

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