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Minnesota politicians cooling to new stadium for Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings significantly advanced their new stadium plan this year, finding a public partner to help fund the proposed $1.1 billion project and hearing supportive words from the state's new governor.

Minnesota's $5 billion budget deficit blocked the path to progress, though, and the partisan impasse over how to fill that gap forced the state government to shut down at the beginning of the month, shoving the stadium to the background.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, and the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate have been busy this week completing their agreement to put Minnesota back in business and guide state spending for the new cycle, but the Vikings were dealt another setback.

The stadium won't be considered during this special session of the Legislature, and Dayton said Tuesday he's reluctant to call another special session later in the year to address a request the team first raised more than a decade ago.

"I haven't decided. It's not ready to be considered at this point," Dayton said. "We'll have to see if negotiations proceed to a point where it can be. ... I take calling a special session very seriously and something I would not do routinely. It would have to be circumstances that compel it, and, again, I don't know whether those will occur or not."

Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley offered a rather ominous response.

"All I can tell you is that we are assessing our options," Bagley said, declining to elaborate.

The Vikings have begun the final year of their lease at the 29-year-old Metrodome, now called Mall of America Field, which is getting a new roof after the old one collapsed during a snowstorm last December. In February, when the lease expires, they will essentially be free agents. Next year's regular session of the Legislature begins in January.

While owner Zygi Wilf has repeatedly said he won't move the team, developers in Los Angeles -- two different groups have stadium plans for the nation's second-largest market -- have inquired before about his interest in selling the franchise. If the lease expires without much more progress toward a new building, Los Angeles is sure to beckon again.

"What would you do if you had a chance to go to Los Angeles?" asked Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, who worked with the Vikings on a plan to build a suburban stadium in Arden Hills on a polluted old army ammunitions site about 10 miles north of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis and open it in 2015.

Wilf and the Vikings have pledged more than $400 million to the project, which also calls for a half-cent sales tax in Ramsey County that would contribute another $350 million. They've asked for $300 million in state money.

"We were ready. The Vikings were ready," Bennett said. "But apparently the Legislature wasn't ready and the governor wasn't ready, based on what he's saying."

He added: "We were making some progress, and then we went into a deadlock on the budget. Of course the budget is a much higher priority. I don't consider it in same room. We agreed to keep the stadium in the background, but we had pretty good assurances that the House and the Senate would allow this to go forward."

Several state legislators expressed concern about pushing a stadium now, given the already strong public backlash about the budget deficit and the shutdown. The 2012 session, with re-elections looming, could be an even more adverse political climate through which to navigate a stadium bill.

"We've done everything that has been asked of us," Bagley said last week. "It's time to do it. We're down to months left on our lease and every day that goes by, the cost of the project goes up."

Bennett spoke Tuesday by phone from Portland, Ore., where he attended an annual conference for the National Association of Counties. He said he was razzed by a couple of his colleagues from California about the possibility of the Vikings moving to Los Angeles.

"But I think we can keep them here. The governor said he wanted jobs. Well, there's 13,000 jobs, for three years," Bennett said, referring to estimates of how many construction workers would be needed for the project.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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