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Coleman Briefs Council on Ballpark Plan
By William Wilcoxen
June 24, 1999
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Saint Paul City Council asked some pointed questions of Mayor Norm Coleman during a discussion of a proposed downtown baseball stadium yesterday, but the council generally supported the idea of putting the ballpark question to a city vote.

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A PETITION DRIVE underway in Saint Paul would put a question on November's ballot asking residents if they support a half-percent increase in the city sales tax to help pay for an open-air downtown ballpark for the Minnesota Twins.

Under Mayor Norm Coleman's proposal, the tax would be imposed only if Twins' owner Carl Pohlad and the Legislature agree to help pay the cost, estimated at $300 to $330 million. After Coleman outlined his proposal to the city council, Jay Benanav, who represents northwestern Saint Paul, raised doubts about using public money to support Major League Baseball when spiralling multi-million dollar salaries threaten the game's viability in many markets.
Benanav: I have difficulty understanding why we should be subsidizing a sport that can't get its own house in order [and] an owner that's one of the richest men in the United States, while at the same time we are struggling to balance our budget in the city of Saint Paul.
Council member Chris Coleman, whose ward includes the five prospective sites for a ballpark, countered that policymakers should not get stuck on the sizeable incomes in the baseball industry.
C. Coleman: We need to focus in on what's in the best interests of the city of Saint Paul and not get caught up on billionaire baseball owners or players or anything else. What's just in the best interests of our city?
Norm Coleman says a ballpark is in the interests of Saint Paulites because it would attract two million or more baseball fans, fans who now head to downtown Minneapolis 81 times a year. The mayor told Benanav the economic spark of those additional visitors would help fund Saint Paul's other needs.
N. Coleman: My job, my responsibility to the people of this community is to find ways to generate economic activity, to bring more jobs, create stronger tax base so that we can deliver the very services with which you are concerned.
Another concern council members raised involves the Twins and their competitiveness - or lack of it. Kathy Lantry, who represents southeastern Saint Paul, doubts a new ballpark alone will let the last-place Twins succeed against the imposing line-ups - and payrolls - of their well-heeled rivals.
Lantry: If the Twins don't put out a good product, we'll have a lovely empty stadium. I don't know what they draw now, but I don't think we're drawing two to three million people to the Metrodome. And I don't know if building a new ballpark will do that if the product stinks.
In cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the money available to baseball teams from television contracts and other local sources dwarfs the revenue of the Twins. Owners of small-market teams have urged revenue-sharing, without much success. But Mayor Coleman suggested construction of a new Saint Paul ballpark could be made contingent on signs of reform in baseball's financial structure.
N. Coleman: There's a period of time that allows us to be involved in the discussion and we will be involved. And before we build a brick we can put things in that say we have to see that baseball's house is in order.
Benanav and other council members applauded the idea of letting residents vote on the stadium issue. In this election year for the city council, incumbents now can support the referendum without endorsing the stadium. That political luxury is not present in Minneapolis, where the city council is divided by the ballpark issue. Tomorrow the Minneapolis council will re-consider a resolution supporting stadium construction. One member was absent earlier this month when the measure failed on a tie vote.