The Star Tribune put together a handy compendium of the goings on in Friday's edition, but the key statement didn't come from local business leaders, or Mark Dayton, or anyone else. The statement came from Lester Bagley, who has been Zygi Wilf's point man on the matter:
"Twenty thousand cars added to the road system on Sunday [for a game] costs $175 million? It's easy to kill stuff, particularly on stadiums, [but] I'm not casting aspersions," Bagley said.
Actually, Bagley is casting aspersions, but he's being careful about it, because he needs to be for the moment. He's talking about some of the math that's been floating around concerning the infrastructure costs involved in the Arden Hills site. The Vikings don't believe that the costs are real and they have reason to be skeptical. The cost may be even higher, but I tend to doubt it. The entire cost of the 35W/62 reconstruction, a far more massive project than anything envisioned in Arden Hills, was $288 million. For another comparison, the current cost of the Central Corridor light rail project is $957 million and counting. And that number has more to do with the current debate than anyone in Minneapolis or St. Paul want to admit, but that's another post.
Of course, no one really knows what the costs would be. There are a number of road projects already in the works that will greatly affect the viability of the Arden Hills site, including work on the 35W/694 interchange that began last summer and will continue regardless of what happens with the Arden Hills site. MnDOT will reconstruct 694 east of 35W, including the notorious bottleneck at the interchange with Snelling Avenue and U.S. 10, in the next few years as well. These improvements are long overdue. As a practical matter, you could assign these costs to the stadium product, but they aren't really part of the project cost. The road improvements are simply the cudgel that politicians opposed to the Ramsey County site are using to pummel the proposal.
Meanwhile, the gang in Minneapolis doesn't seem to understand a few things. But never fear, they've written a letter. From the article:
The business community's letter to Dayton and legislators reiterated their strong support for the city's stadium proposal on the site of the Metrodome, where the team has played since 1982. The letter was being sent by Home Field Advantage, a business and civic coalition that successfully backed a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.There's a lot of nonsense in those two paragraphs. Of course the Minneapolis business folks want the Vikings to stay downtown, but they aren't willing to pony up any money to do it. And Sam Grabarski is hallucinating if he thinks the Minneapolis plan is real. The cavalcade of taxes and user fees that the Minneapolis plan would impose has even less chance of getting through the legislature than what's currently on the table in Arden Hills. And the mention of Home Field Advantage's success in getting Target Field built is both a classic non-sequitur and specious. The reason the Twins have their new palace is that Mike Opat and the Hennepin County Board made it happen. But Opat isn't playing this time, because he's already tapped every potential revenue source available. Of course Minneapolis wants a new Vikings stadium, but the variety of governmental players can't afford to provide what Wilf can get elsewhere.
"The Minneapolis plan is real," said Sam Grabarski, president of the Downtown Council. "One has to wonder if the Legislature has time to understand and debate any proposal. We have to believe that common sense will prevail."
At bottom, there's a fundamental disconnect between the vision Wilf has and the vision of the New Urbanist swells who occupy our local governments. Zygi Wilf has been to Arlington, Texas and has seen the Xanadu that Jerry Jones occupies. He's also been to Glendale, Arizona and has seen the empire that Bill Bidwill occupies. He wants one, too. He'll front some money to get a similar palace, but he aims to get a return on his investment. Our benevolent overlords picture a stadium in which contented citizens politely step from their light rail platforms and file into the stadium. It's a tidy vision that has nothing to do with the nasty, tooth and claw world of NFL owners.
And I'll close this installment with another question for team Minneapolis. Let's assume that the various Minneapolis folks manage to scuttle the Arden Hills project, the project that reflects Zygi Wilf's vision and serves as the model he clearly wants for the team. What would be Wilf's incentive to break bread with people who couldn't be bothered to listen to what Wilf wanted when it mattered, threw out a ridiculous 11th-hour proposal via a slavering media and then refused to take no for an answer?
The Metrodome lease is up at the end of 2011. If I had to guess, the future of the Vikings in Minnesota will be decided in the next 9 days. The Vikings are being polite now, because they have to be. If the legislative session ends without an agreement, things change.