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Twin Cities Tug-of-War in the Stadium Scramble

The draft is over and the lockout is back in effect and Minneapolis is acting kind of like a twerp-yep, things are back to normal.

Minneapolis is a great city. It has a vibrant downtown area full of restaurants, bars, concert and sports venues. Going from St. Paul to Minneapolis on a Saturday night is kind of like going from a small town high school to San Diego State University. That's why creating a sports entertainment corridor in Minneapolis in the area between Target Center, Target Field, and the Minneapolis Farmers Market site proposed for a Vikings stadium sounds like a great idea. Until, of course, you try to pay for it.

Join me after the jump, the Vikings have three potential sites and a lot of questions that need answers.

On Monday last week, real estate investor Bruce Lambrecht, the visioned fellow* who first proposed the Minnesota Twin's new home, released an analysis comparing the benefits of building a new Vikings stadium on the Minneapolis Farmers Market site west of Target Field and on the current Metrodome site. In this study, prepared with the aid of David Albersman, the Minneapolis urban planner responsible for presenting the initial plans for the new Twins ballpark, Lambrecht presented findings that said, in all but one area, the Farmers Market site was far superior to the Dome site. The Farmers Market site would have easy access to a proposed transit hub, parking close to the stadium, and numerous bars and restaurants for pre- and post-game dining. If a stadium is built on the Farmers Market site, it could be the kind of urban stadium that would make Zygi Wilf rub his hands together with glee.

The only area in this study where the 47-acre Farmers Market site faired poorly in comparison to the Metrodome site was in land acquisition costs. Even with a plan that would not include property owned by Mary Jo Copeland's** Sharing and Caring Hands charity, the costs of acquiring the property could add an additional $150 million to the project that is already projected to cost $900 million.

As far as contrasting these two Minneapolis sites, I'm not sure adding $150 million to the projected $900 million that a stadium would cost matters. Whether it costs $900 million or $900+$150 million, Minneapolis still has no money to contribute to a stadium project. And that presents a major funding problem because, under the current proposal, a third of the cost of a new Vikings stadium needs to be covered by a local equity partner.

Now, here's a bit of Twin Cities rivalry that I think is funny. Both the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on this study contrasting the Farmers Market site and the Metrodome site, but how they covered the story varied.

The Star-Tribune explored the connection that Bruce Lambrecht's championing of the Farmers Market site has an element of self-interest. Lambrecht owns land near, but not on, the proposed site. So, although he wouldn't benefit directly from the deal by having his property included in the property being considered for the stadium, you better believe that Lambrecht would indirectly benefit if the Farmers Market site is chosen for a Vikings stadium. I don't have a problem with people profiting from a stadium deal-so long as that information is made known before a deal is done, and I'm glad the Star-Tribune brought out that element of this stadium debate.

However, to read the Star-Tribune you might never know there was a third potential Vikings stadium site, the former Army Ammunitions site in Arden Hills. All the Star-Tribune had to say about the site in Ramsey County, was that Ted Mondale of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission will release an analysis of the bottom-line costs of building a new roofed stadium that include all three potential stadium sites. Yup, that was it.

In contrast, the Pioneer Press story revealed that talks between the Vikings and Ramsey County regarding the former Army Ammunitions site are progressing to the point where there will either be a deal forthcoming or the conclusion that there will be no deal. The word at the end of last week was that there might even be a deal forthcoming between the Vikings and Ramsey County for the Arden Hills site if upgrades to the transportation infrastructure in the area would be paid for by the state. That seems to confirm what Mondale had said earlier last week, the Vikings like the Ramsey County site. Mind you, they don't like it so much that they aren't still interested in other sites, but they do like the site.

But, by Thursday last week, Mike Opat, Hennepin County Board Chairman, had withdrawn his pursuit for a Vikings stadium being built on the Minneapolis Farmers Market site because of the expense, despite the support of local business leaders, while supporters of building a new Vikings stadium on the Metrodome site scrambled. And in the midst of those Minneapolis moves, it was reported that the Vikings were getting very close to making an agreement with Ramsey County for the TCAAP site in Arden Hills.

Although there is no way that Arden Hills can provide the kind of urban entertainment corridor that building a stadium near Target Field can offer, there are compensations for not being in the middle of a big city-namely, space. I've read differing numbers on how many acres are available at the Arden Hills site (some articles have said 400 acres and others say 200 acres), but it is certainly more than would be available at the Metrodome site or the 47-acre proposed site in the Farmers Market. With that much space available, there will be plenty of parking available near the stadium and plenty of room for tailgating. I've read some estimates that suggest several thousand tailgating spaces could be available for fans if the Vikings go with the Arden Hills site. It may be that being able to grill your own brats could make up for not having wide a choice of restaurants near the stadium. The major sticking point in getting the deal done is the cost of transportation upgrades to the area so thousands of game day fans could move in and out of the area easily. It is hoped that state funds will be used to upgrade the transportation infrastructure in the area.

At any rate, even with questions lingering on the transportation infrastructure issue, the Arden Hills site still has the benefit of being able to act as a full local equity partner with the Vikings. Minneapolis, unable to be a full equity partner, favors a broader, regional tax affecting more of Minnesota in order to keep the Vikings in Hennepin County.

With the way the stadium proposal stands now, with the state, a local equity partner, and the Vikings each covering a third of the cost of a new, roofed stadium, Minneapolis isn't capable of being an equity partner. That being the case, Arden Hills seems the likeliest location for a Vikings stadium. However, if Minneapolis convinces the legislature to levy a regional/state tax, or if the business investors in Minneapolis raise private funds for a Minneapolis stadium, then that would seem to favor one of the Minneapolis stadium sites.

I don't really care whether the Vikings building a stadium at the Metrodome site, the Farmers Market site, or the Arden Hills site. So long as the Vikings stay in Minnesota, I'm a happy camper. But, if the lobbying for an unlikely (under present circumstances and despite Minneapolis' newfound willingness to pay about a fourth of the cost), Minneapolis stadium endangers a deal with Arden Hills I'll be very annoyed.

*Bruce Lambrecht is also a moneyed fellow because the purchase of the property for Target Field earned $28 million for Lambrecht's investment group.

**Mary Jo Copeland has said she has no interest in moving her charities. Any effort by the city of Minneapolis or the Vikings organization will be met with serious resistance that will complicate any construction project involving her property.