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Vikings Have User-Based Stadium Road Payment Plan

Thu July 07, 2011 - Midwest Edition

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Vikings have produced a plan for funding road improvements necessary for their desired new suburban stadium, a piece of the $1.1 billion puzzle unaccounted for in the original proposal.

The Vikings and Ramsey County are asking the state to either issue a bond or an interest-free loan that would cover between $60 million and $81 million, which would be paid back over 30 years through stadium-user-based sales taxes and surchages on items such as tickets, merchandise, concessions and parking. A $20 per car sales excise tax in the county also would go to repaying the money.

Vikings vice president for stadium development and public affairs Lester Bagley revealed the plan in an interview June 13.

“We think it’s a proposal that gets the job done,” Bagley said. “Many of the road improvements that have been identified would serve a much broader purpose, whether or not the stadium is built.”

The stadium campaign essentially has been pushed into the background by the still-elusive state budget agreement that’s needed to avoid a government shutdown, but the Vikings have begun the final year of their lease at the Metrodome.

Lead owner Zygi Wilf has publicly maintained a commitment to keep the team in Minnesota, but developers in Los Angeles have inquired about a purchase.

The team and the county also identified available ancillary funding, mostly in transportation-related and site-cleanup grants, that could supply the remaining $50 million. Commissioner Rafael Ortega said he was confident that money could be secured.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s last estimate of the stadium road project was $131 million, $86 million for highway improvements and $45 million to improve adjoining roads and interchanges, but Ortega said June 13 that figure is marked up. He said it’s based on a “30 percent contingency,” a liberal estimate of cost overruns and inflation. The team-county payment proposal for the roads is based on a range between $110 million and $131 million.

“Maybe even under $110 million,” Ortega said, pointing to a number of other construction projects in the county that have come in under budget. “It’s not like we’re building on swampland or something. It’s just reconstructing and rehabilitating existing highways.”

Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman of MnDOT, declined comment on the commissioner’s cost contention.

Katie Tinucci, a spokeswoman of Gov. Mark Dayton, said the governor’s office had not yet seen the proposal.

The Vikings struck a partnership with key county leaders calling for a $1.1 billion, 65,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof at the site of a former Army ammunition plant in Arden Hills, a suburb about 10 mi. northeast of the team’s current home at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.

The Vikings have pledged $407 million, a number they haven’t expressed willingness to exceed. Ramsey County’s total, to come from a half-cent countywide sales tax, is $350 million. That state’s tab is $300 million, money that would be produced by new statewide sales taxes on sports memorabilia, luxury seats and digital video recorders as well as stadium naming rights, a Vikings-themed lottery game and an income-tax surcharge on NFL players.

But the site needs some infrastructure improvements, and Dayton and stadium leaders in the legislature have insisted any road costs for the state would count against that imposed $300 million cap.

“Both the Legislature and the governor’s office keep coming back to Ramsey County and saying, ’Keep coming up with creative solutions,”’ Ortega said. “We keep coming up with creative solutions, and they keep saying, ’No.’ So this is another creative way to come up with the money. We’ve done our part.”

Bagley stressed that the $60 to $81 million portion of the road improvement project will require neither general-fund money nor an additional sales tax. Using a past suggestion from former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Bagley said the money can be repaid to the state simply by capturing projected increases in those user-based taxes on tickets and concessions and the like, comparing figures at the proposed new stadium in 2015 to what would have been produced at the Metrodome in 2011.

“It’s not a huge amount of money, but when you cobble them all together you can get close to what you need to pay off the debt,” Bagley said.

The Vikings also provided a list of additional means of paying down the project. That included a redirection of the metro-wide car rental tax that was imposed in 1991 for the Super Bowl that season and a one-week-only hospitality tax during a future Super Bowl if the NFL decides to award the big game to Minnesota’s new venue.

“Every request that’s been put in front of us we’ve responded to,” Bagley said. “We think there’s a will to solve this.”

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