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Opat: Business Wants Vikes West Of Downtown

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Business leaders in Minneapolis are calling for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium on the western edge of downtown, even though the city’s mayor wants a new stadium on the current Metrodome site.

“I think it’s still in play,” Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat said Wednesday of the so-called “Downtown West” proposals — two potential sites that are both adjacent to the Twins’ Target Field. Opat was a key player in the deal-making that got Target Field built, but has stayed mostly quiet as officials from the city of Minneapolis and Ramsey County jockey to be the site of a new football stadium.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said last week that rebuilding on the Metrodome land would be the cheapest option, after state lawmakers who will make the ultimate site decision pressed the mayor to choose between the three options. But Minneapolis business leaders muddied the waters Wednesday as they unveiled a 15-year development plan for downtown that included a “sports district” west of downtown that would take in Target Field, Target Center and a new football stadium.

“Imagine a renovated Target Center, new public gathering places, a Vikings stadium and a new transportation exchange all working in concert with Target Field — producing one of the liveliest areas in any American city,” said John Griffith, executive vice president for property development at Target Corp. Griffith chaired a committee of the Minneapolis Downtown Council that assembled the 15-year plan.

Opat and Downtown Council leaders declined to say whether Minneapolis companies and business leaders would be willing to contribute financially to the cost of building a stadium that could cost as much as $1 billion. But Sam Grabarski, president of the Downtown Council, said the western sites offered more opportunities for private investment than are available around the Metrodome, which is on the eastern edge of downtown.

Grabarski envisioned public plazas, a retail pavilion, facilities designed to host events tied to a future Super Bowl, and major upgrades to the nearby Minneapolis Farmer’s Market. “It’s very possible these things would capture and encourage private sector participation in very tangible ways,” Grabarski said.

A spokesman for Rybak did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Grabarski stressed that downtown business forces still want to work with the mayor to keep the Vikings in Minneapolis, and that the site decision is ultimately secondary. Under the council’s 15-year plan, the Metrodome would be converted into a housing and retail area with a small, man-made lake.

The owners of the Vikings have stated their own preference for a fourth option, building on a parcel of land in the Ramsey County suburb of Arden Hills. Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team has numerous unanswered questions about the west side sites.

“The total cost, the footprint, the construction plan, what’s included and what’s not, who owns it and how is the land acquired, what are the environmental needs, how do you get 65,000 people in and out of there — we know these answers in Arden Hills and at the Metrodome site,” Bagley said.

At a state Senate hearing earlier last month, several state lawmakers chided Rybak for the city’s failure to get behind one of the three site proposals — which seemed to motivate his subsequent decision to back the Metrodome site.

Lawmakers have been working on a stadium bill, complete with a site decision and financing package, and are expected to release it in early January.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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