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Dayton: Vikings’ preferred stadium site lacking

ST. PAUL – Gov. Mark Dayton all but ruled out the Minnesota Vikings’ preferred site for a new stadium Wednesday, and said question remain about two downtown Minneapolis sites.

With the 2012 legislative session beginning Tuesday, those answers are needed soon or no new stadium will be approved this year, the governor said. The Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome expires Feb. 1 and they say they will not renew it without a new stadium deal.

“You can’t make a decision until you have all the facts,” Dayton said.

It appeared Dayton leaned toward a western downtown Minneapolis site, near the home of the Timberwolves basketball and Twins baseball teams, but he said he remained open to any of the three locations.

The Vikings themselves helped to nearly end the chances for their preferred northern Ramsey County location at Arden Hills. With legislative leaders saying they will not approve raising county taxes and no other local contributions in sight, the Vikings rejected Dayton’s suggestion that they contribute $700 million toward the $1.1 billion stadium if it were built in Arden Hills.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the Arden Hills site is ideal, but the Vikings would not contribute that much money.

The team recently began talking to Minneapolis officials about the western site, as well as rebuilding the Metrodome in the eastern part of downtown. While Bagley said those sites have potential, he refused to say how much the team would contribute toward a Minneapolis stadium, other than saying it would be less than the $400 million-plus that would be spent for Arden Hills.

The governor insists on knowing how much the Vikings would pay before he recommends a site.

Dayton said the western downtown site has lots of commercial potential, since it is close to other sports and entertainment venues. Bagley called the site “intriguing.”

However, Basilica of Saint Mary officials complain about prospects of a stadium close to the iconic church. And on Wednesday they hinted about suing to prevent construction.

Dayton and aides have met with basilica officials and he plans to meet with them again on Friday.

The bottom line from Wednesday’s developments is that a stadium deal remains a long way from completion, and the 2012 legislative session is approaching fast.

“Regrettably, there is not yet a stadium proposal with a complete and sufficient financial plan, one which assigns equitable obligations to the Vikings, the local partner and the state of Minnesota,” Dayton said. “And no site sponsor has adequately resolved the major unanswered questions in order to merit the approval to proceed.”

Dayton said he is pressuring backers of each site to fill in the blanks, but did not give a deadline for when those answers are due.

In the meantime, a group of legislators and a governor’s aide met behind closed doors late Wednesday on the stadium issue. Any stadium plan needs legislative approval, but lawmakers are all over the map on stadium issues, especially on financing.

One of the group’s leaders, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, disagreed with Dayton’s apparent narrowing of viable stadium sites.

“Despite the governor’s statements, I plan to continue evaluating all serious proposals on their individual merits and with the same concerns for Minnesota taxpayers,” Rosen said.

She also hinted that a new stadium is not as high a priority for legislators as it is in some circles: “Crafting and voting on a stadium bill is an important goal for us, but it is one of several priorities this session.”

Dayton said the longer it takes to answer his questions, the less likely it is that a stadium will be approved by lawmakers. Legislative leaders want to adjourn for the year in April.

The governor reinforced his support of allowing charitable gambling outlets to use electronic devices as well as the current paper pull tabs and bingo cards. That would provide the state $60 million a year, about double what would be needed to pay the state’s portion of a stadium-construction loan.

The plan all along has been for the Vikings, state and a local government to split costs of a stadium.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the News Tribune.