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Wilfs meet with governor; county claims stadium deal close

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he met privately with Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf to discuss state funding of a new football stadium, and that he hoped a site would be picked soon as the list of possibilities narrowed to two.

Dayton met with the Wilfs late Thursday. The team owners also met with officials in Ramsey County, where several county board members have been pushing the idea of putting the stadium on the site of a former Army ammunition plant in suburban Arden Hills, about 10 miles north of St. Paul.

"We're very close to a deal," said County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, who along with colleagues has suggested a half-cent county sales tax increase to help pay for stadium construction. But Ortega's colleague, Commissioner Tony Bennett, said that about $100 million in costs needed to upgrade the transportation infrastructure around that site seemed to be hanging up a final deal.

The Wilfs also met Friday with elected officials in Minneapolis, where putting a stadium at or near the team's current home -- the Metrodome -- is the other live option. Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson didn't return a call seeking comment Friday. Minneapolis leaders have said they're unwilling to levy a city sales tax, but stadium supporters have said other local financing options are part of the discussion.

"I said I hope that we could get this narrowed down to one site as soon as possible," Dayton said of his meetings with the Wilfs.

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the Wilfs left the state late Friday afternoon but that negotiations were continuing. "We're still at it, we're still working," Bagley said. He said the team was looking for "the best possible deal for our fans and the state of Minnesota."

On Thursday, Hennepin County Board chairman Mike Opat abandoned the idea of putting a stadium near the Twins' Target Field. In a letter to Dayton, Opat wrote that proposed state spending cuts to county aid, along with lack of time in the remaining two weeks of the current legislative session, convinced him that a Hennepin County deal wasn't achievable.

A deal with a local partner could help the Vikings build new momentum at the Capitol, where state lawmakers have introduced a bill proposing a three-way cost split between the state, the local partner and the team on a covered stadium estimated to cost up to $900 million.

The proposed state share of $300 million would be funded with a 10 percent state sales tax on sports memorabilia, along with a sales tax on luxury seats at the new stadium and on digital video recorders, as well as proceeds from stadium naming rights and a football-themed state lottery game.

Under the proposal, the Vikings would be responsible for cost overruns. Dayton and many lawmakers have said they want to see the team pay more than a third, with the governor suggesting again Friday that the team should pay half the total cost.

Dayton has called the Vikings a state asset and said building a stadium would mean construction jobs for Minnesotans. Team officials have been trying for years to get state assistance to build a new stadium, saying the Metrodome is no longer sufficiently profitable, and team supporters have suggested failure to provide such help could result in the franchise deserting Minnesota.

If a deal with a local government emerges in the next few days, the team and its Capitol backers would have about two weeks before the May 23 adjournment date for the legislative session. They'll have to compete for the time and attention of lawmakers who are still reaching for a deal with Dayton to erase a projected $5 billion budget deficit. Both House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said again Friday that the state budget is the first priority.

Dayton said he still believes it can be done.

"I've seen how deals come together, and I've seen how the time pressure at the end of the session concentrates decision-making, forces decision-making," he said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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