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Stadium: Dead on Arrival
By William Wilcoxen
June 11, 1999
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Volunteers will begin collecting signatures in Saint Paul next week on a petition calling for a referendum asking residents if they approve of a one-half percent city sales tax to help pay for a ballpark for the Minnesota Twins. Meanwhile, a key lawmaker says the Legislature is unlikely to give either Saint Paul or Hennepin County permission to levy a local ballpark tax.

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STADIUM SUPPORTERS NEED TO COLLECT 5,000 signatures by July 2 to put a ballpark referendum question on the November ballot in Saint Paul. Mayor Norm Coleman says he'll announce the language of the petition next week, but he outlined a plan to pay for an open-air Minnesota Twins ballpark that would cost at least $300 million.
Coleman: To bring baseball to Saint Paul, we need a partnership with the city, the state, and the team. We will ask the voters of Saint Paul to approve an initiative that will build a riverfront ballpark by enacting an additional one-half percent city-side sales tax. We estimate that this sales tax will generate approximately $10 million a year.
Coleman says his plan is contingent on voter approval of the referendum and on the state and the Twins agreeing to split the cost of a ballpark. Chris Coleman, A DFLer on Saint Paul's City Council - who is not related to the Republican mayor - says he likes the idea of putting a ballpark tax on the ballot.
C. Coleman: You cannot jam this down people's throats. They have to have a voice in what's going on. They have to have an opportunity to understand the arguments, to listen to the different points of view, and then make their decision on their own. And that's why it's absolutely vital that we bring this to the voters for a referendum.
The agreement by both Colemans suggests support for a stadium proposal is broader in Saint Paul's city hall than in Minneapolis'. In Minneapolis, a non-binding resolution supporting the idea of a riverfront ballpark failed on a tie vote in the city council. Prodded into action by Saint Paul's plan, Minneapolis and Hennepin County approached Twins owner Carl Pohlad with a stadium proposal this week. One financing option would involve a Hennepin County sales tax and would include no state subsidy. The Twins' Jim Pohlad, one of Carl's sons, says it's too early for the team to declare a preference between the Minneapolis and Saint Paul ideas.
Pohlad: We are not yet ready to make a commitment to one specific location because there's a recent flurry of activity that needs to be analyzed by us. And that's what we're in the process of doing.
Norm Coleman says Saint Paul officials agreed to give the Twins time to study the Hennepin County proposal, but the mayor says Saint Paul would like the team to choose one city or another by the time its referendum petition drive ends July 2.

Regardless of which city the Twins prefer, funding a ballpark with a new local tax would require legislative approval. And the chairman of the House Tax Committee, Republican Ron Abrams of Minnetonka, buried the notion that lawmakers would authorize a stadium tax.
Abrams: It's not going to happen. The Minneapolis City Council and the Hennepin County Board are basically wasting their time and taxpayers' money and staff expertise in all of these schemes they're coming up with. Not only is it dead on arrival, there'll be nobody there to take arrival of any of these plans that I've heard of.
Abrams says the idea of putting a ballpark tax to voters in a referendum gives Saint Paul's plan a slight advantage over Minneapolis'. But he says the Saint Paul plan calls for spending $100 million of state funds on a ballpark rather than putting it to another use. Abrams says there was bipartisan support for cutting taxes at the Capitol this year. He doubts the Legislature will reverse course by approving higher taxes in the Twin Cities, especially not to pay for a stadium lawmakers rejected two years ago when public opposition to a ballpark subsidy was overwhelming. Abrams vowed his committee won't spend too much time on the ballpark issue next spring.
Abrams: I am not going to allow the House Tax Committee to be hijacked by the stadium issue. It was hijacked by the Target Center in '94. The entire Legislature was hijacked in '97 with the stadium debate. And it will not happen in the year 2000.
Saint Paul officials say their petition drive will begin Tuesday, when volunteers will start collecting signatures from registered Saint Paul voters calling for a referendum.