Location, Location, Location: Where Can the Vikings Find a Home?

Unlike my sister and half the women in the country, right now I'm supremely unconcerned about what princess-to-be Kate Middleton's wedding dress will look like. There's going to be a new royal princess in England and the kind of lavish wedding that will be talked about and emulated for years to come. But I don't really care. That kind of declaration is the sort of thing that, under normal circumstances, would make my estrogen rise up and bitch-slap me silly.

However, these are not normal circumstances. My girliness and interest in a royal wedding will have to bow to my devotion to the Minnesota Vikings.

With the clock ticking ominously, the Vikings are watching their most recent stadium bill chug uninspiringly through the Minnesota legislature. I don't know if this has them concerned, but it certainly has me concerned. I read just about everything I can find regarding the Vikings' quest for a new stadium and it's becoming apparent that the Minnesota legislature is uncomfortable with the vagueness in the current stadium bill. There's no location for the proposed stadium, there's no firm plan for how to fund the stadium construction, and there's no clue what the stadium will look like when it is done. Not only does that kind of vagueness not inspire confidence, it doesn't inspire cash.

Legislators are not big fans of voting on vague bills that could come back to bite them. And yet, that's what the current Vikings stadium bill amounts to. It has more blanks to fill in than a jumbo book of Wacky Mad Libs.

In pondering the problem it occurred to me that you can't decide one item in the bill independently from the others. And that's a big problem. The way the team would fund a stadium in Minneapolis is not the way they would fund it if they had an equity partner that had something to offer other than ambiance. And the design of a stadium in the middle of an urban area might vary from what could be designed for a 430-acre site.

While it could probably be argued a variety of ways, I lean toward thinking location is the most important element to nail down. The Vikings don't seem to agree, but I won't let that skew my opinion.

More on the location debate after the jump.

As Ted succinctly put it, the Vikings organization has been commitment phobic when it comes to deciding on a site for a new stadium. The Vikings organization keeps flirting with Minneapolis to the detriment of getting a deal done with any other location. I can see the allure. Minneapolis has a vibrant downtown area, infrastructure and mass transit, and two potential sites (the Metrodome site and west of Target Field in the Minneapolis Farmers Market) for a new stadium. What doesn't Minneapolis have? Cash.

Minneapolis is broke, broke, broke. While Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak wants the Vikings to stay in Minneapolis, he has made it clear that Minneapolis has nothing financially to offer the Vikings. Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis are tapped out. What Mayor Rybak favors is a regional tax on all of Minnesota so the Vikings can stay in Minneapolis.

But the Minneapolis sites are complicated with more issues than a simple lack of cash.

If the Vikings were to build a new stadium on the current Metrodome site (currently touted as the most likely location for a new stadium), they would need to find another place to play while the new stadium was under construction. The likeliest location for the Vikings to play in while they are temporarily displaced during stadium construction is TCF Stadium, but, as we found when the Vikings played the Chicago Bears there last season, TCF Stadium isn't ideal for late season games because there are no heating elements under the field to keep the turf from turning into granite during cold weather. Despite those concerns, the Dome site is ideal in that the Metropolitan Sports Commission already owns the property so there would be no additional costs incurred in procuring the property. Funds for a new stadium at the Metrodome site could be applied straight to demolition and construction.

While building a stadium just west of Target Field in the Minneapolis Farmers Market area would make for an interesting stadium village kind of entertainment center with Target Field and Target Center, that site is much more complicated than the Metrodome site. Any stadium built in the Farmers Market neighborhood would involve negotiating with multiple property owners-most notably, Mary Jo Copeland.

For you out-of-towners, Mary Jo Copeland is something of a local charity celeb. For years she has been running Mary's Place and Sharing and Caring Hands. Together, those charities have provided food, meals, medical care, and housing to tens of thousands of people. Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat's suggestion that he and Copeland could meet to discuss the future of the area was met with no success. Copeland said she has no interest in moving or selling so there was nothing to discuss. So, if the Vikings were to build a new stadium on that proposed Minneapolis Farmers Market site they would have to oust a charity and negotiate with multiple other property owners simply to secure the location. That could lead to delays, bad press, and additional costs-estimated from $95-$168 million, thus making the total cost of a new stadium closer to $900 million.

However, even if the Vikings did manage to successfully secure the Minneapolis Farmers Market property from all the owners of this proposed site via either charm or eminent domain strong-arm tactics, the site is still in Minneapolis so there is still no money to fund a third of the stadium building project as laid out in the bill now in the legislature.

Ramsey County, on the other hand, wants the Vikings in a big, bad, financially beneficial way.

Ramsey County is offering the Vikings the former munitions site in St. Paul suburb Arden Hills, a roomy location with 430 acres just itching for development. The U.S. Army's real estate agency had planned to auction off the property, but that auction was delayed until the current stadium debate is settled. Any stadium deal will require state funds, but Ramsey County is prepared to be the full equity partner that Minneapolis and Hennepin County can't be-that's right, Ramsey county has huge tracts of undeveloped land (from a single owner already interested in selling) and is also willing to foot a third of the cost for the project. Now, if only there was support from local government officials like say a Ramsey County Commissioner... Oh wait, there is.

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett (District 1) has been vocal in his support for building a Vikings stadium in Arden Hills, according to a report on MinnPost.com. Bennett has gone on the record in the local press saying he thinks a Vikings stadium in Arden Hills would be a good way to develop the area. The county is simply waiting on the Vikings to make a decision.

But, despite everything the Arden Hills site can offer, the Vikings are still making goo-goo eyes at Minneapolis behind Ramsey County's back. Let me frame this in dating terms. Guys, Minneapolis is like the hot chick who tosses her hair, smiles, and lets you buy her a drink only when she thinks another chick is into you. When she has gotten rid of her competition and has you all to herself, she says she's washing her hair or doing laundry every time you call.

With the continuing financial struggles in Minneapolis and all Ramsey County has to offer, I can't fathom the Vikings' reticence to commit to Arden Hills and get on with it already. An urban stadium in Minneapolis is nice in theory, but a shiny new NFL stadium will be like a license to print money and local businesses would converge on Arden Hills like tweenage girls at a Justin Bieber convention. It will truly be a case of "If you build it, they will come" for both local business and infrastructure. But if the Minnesota Vikings delay deciding on a stadium location any longer, the chances that it will be built anywhere in Minnesota grow slimmer.

More coming on the Vikings stadium proposal and its economic implications.

*Facts and figures for this article were taken primarily from the St. Paul Pioneer Press article "Coming Soon: A Stadium Plan. But..." by Dave Orrick and MinnPost.com "Ramsey County 'Salesman' Tony Bennett Makes Update Pitch on Vikings Stadium Effort" by Jay Weiner.

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