Officials: Arden Hills stadium site would cost $28.5M

Published 12:02 pm Friday, November 11, 2011

Ramsey County officials say they’ve struck a $28.5 million deal with the military to buy the Arden Hills site of a proposed $1.1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium.

The purchase price reportedly includes cleanup costs and squelches speculation that the cost and cleanup of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant could run as high as $70 million.

Included in the 430-acre offer is 123 acres of natural area north of the proposed stadium site bordering the Rice Creek Wildlife corridor. Most of the land would remain wildlife area with access roads.

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“With or without the Vikings stadium, it is a chance to clean up the state’s largest Superfund site and to enhance the wildlife corridor that Ramsey County has already invested in,” said Victoria Reinhardt, chair of the county Board of Commissioners. “With or without the Vikings, this really needs to be done.”

The board will vote on the offer Tuesday, but no huge sums would change hands without a stadium agreement in place between the state and the Vikings, or, alternately, some form of state financing for cleanup.

Reinhardt has opposed proposals to create a special countywide sales tax to fund stadium construction, but she said she favors the land deal.

“It’s really not contingent on a stadium,” she said. “(A stadium) may be one way that they choose to use it, but I want it cleaned up and ready for redevelopment.”

Nevertheless, said two other county commissioners backing the stadium deal, the military’s land offer proves points they’ve been making all along.

Estimates criticized

When it comes to the projected costs and construction timeline associated with the stadium, Ramsey County commissioners Rafael Ortega and Tony Bennett have a message for the Metropolitan Council and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission: All your estimates are wrong.

That is the substance of a letter delivered Thursday by the two commissioners to Gov. Mark Dayton, Met Council chair Sue Haigh and Sports Facilities Commission chair Ted Mondale, as well as state House and Senate leaders.

Ortega and Bennett said Ramsey County’s formal purchase offer from the General Services Administration is within the $30 million that stadium proponents budgeted for acquiring the site and cleaning it up to at least industrial standards.

A “risk analysis” presented by the Met Council last month had warned of possible cost overruns due to a variety of factors, including estimated land transfer and remediation costs ranging anywhere from $23 million to $70 million.

The report called the Vikings’ construction timetable “aggressive” and “unrealistic.”

Bennett said otherwise.

“In the $1.1 billion deal, there was $30 million in there for the stadium,” said Bennett, one of the key architects of the Vikings stadium package. “We’re well under it. We’ve got an agreement with Uncle Sam.”

The purchase would likely not be executed until state and county officials approve a deal with the Vikings, Bennett said. Nevertheless, proponents noted that the GSA offer gives the Arden Hills site a potential boost over competing proposals, such as the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market site, which would require developers to negotiate land transfers with several landowners.

Mixed reactions

Meredith Salsbery, a spokeswoman for the Met Council, said council staff would be unable to comment on the military’s land offer without conducting a thorough review of the deal.

A reporter’s call to the GSA was not immediately returned Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the governor said he had no immediate comment on the commissioners’ letter.

Jeff Anderson, the Vikings’ director of corporate communications, called the land offer “positive developments on the site that we think is the ideal site for the stadium project.”

The purchase price offered by the GSA isn’t the only good news for Vikings stadium proponents.

What’s more, wrote the commissioners in their letter, the county would be allowed to deduct from the purchase price the cost of demolishing some 200 structures on the site and cleaning up hazardous waste.

“Importantly, the federal government will remain financially responsible for all costs necessary to clean up the property to a commercial/industrial standard, even those costs involving previously unknown contaminants,” reads the letter.

More good news

The commissioners pointed to additional good news. They said a contractor, whose identity they did not disclose, with “substantial experience” with the decommissioned military site has quoted a fixed-price for demolition and cleanup.

The contractor said the site could be ready for stadium construction within nine months of a signed contract.

The quote, said the commissioners, “is significantly less than the amount of credit available to the county against the GSA’s proposed price for the property.”

In other words, commissioners are comfortable moving forward with an open bidding process for the clean-up, confident that it can be done at reasonable cost.

Officials with Mortenson Construction have said it is feasible to design and build a stadium by 2015, despite Met Council estimates that the earliest a facility could open is 2016.

The letter touched on a third area of concern: the length of time it might take to prepare an environmental review of the site. Attorneys with the legal firm of Gray Plant Mooty worked on the environmental impact statements for the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and Target Field in Hennepin County.

The lawyers said they’re confident the environmental statement for the Vikings stadium would not take as long as the Met Council predicts

In an email, a spokesman for the Sports Facilities Commission, which is led by gubernatorial appointee Ted Mondale, deferred all questions to the Met Council.

“(The) Met Council is the expert at cleaning-up polluted lands with a proven track record,” the spokesman said.

If the GSA offer is approved next week by the county board and county attorney, Ramsey County would put up $300,000 in an initial “earnest money” payment to the GSA. The money is fully refundable if a Vikings package falls through, said county spokesman Art Coulson.