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Voters Write Stadium Obituary
By Michael Khoo
November 3, 1999
Part of MPR Online's "Campaign '99" coverage.
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St. Paul residents yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a sales-tax increase to pay for a new Minnesota Twins ballpark in the city's downtown. After a summer of sometimes contentious debate, voters defeated the proposal 58 percent to 42 percent.

FOR THE PAST FOUR MONTHS, polls had shown consistent and strong opposition to Mayor Norm Coleman's plan to bring the Minnesota Twins across the river. And from the moment election results began trickling in, it seemed the pollsters had gotten it right. By about 9:30 last night, Mayor Norm Coleman conceded the fight was over.
Coleman: You've got to applaud the fact that we gave the people a chance to speak. And the voice of the people is to say "no" not "yes." Am I disappointed in that? Absolutely. Very, very disappointed. Not disappointed for me, but disappointed for St. Paul. This is a tremendous vision, tremendous opportunity. But in the end, in this business, you've got to live with the voice of the people. And they have spoken.
And they spoke in record numbers. Ramsey County election officials estimate voter turnout was above 60 percent, more than twice the number in the last off-year election without a mayor's race and close to last year's turnout when Governor Jesse Ventura was swept into office. Coleman's concession speech sparked a round of applause among opponents of the stadium sales tax.
Rodin: We've just been told that Mayor Coleman has conceded this election.
Holly Rodin chairs the steering committee for Progressive Minnesota, a group opposed to the stadium initiative. Rodin called the election results a vindication for grassroots organizing.
Rodin: It's a lesson that when people put their time and energy in an issue that they care about, it beats money. And that's the lesson that we need to learn. And congratulations to everybody for a job very well done on this campaign.
The exact amounts spent by the two camps during the summer long debate won't be clear until final campaign disclosure forms are filed next month. But previous filings showed pro-stadium forces outspending opponents more than five to one. Despite the lopsided funding, stadium tax supporters said they weren't surprised by the final results, including Twins president Jerry Bell.
Bell: You know, we were not shocked because the polls had shown all along that this was an uphill struggle. So, can't be terribly surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.
Bell declined to comment on what the future holds for the Twins now that the St. Paul effort appears dead. The Twins' lease at the Metrodome runs through the 2000 baseball season. Afterwards, they have the option to renew or seek other accommodations. Last night's voting also appears to negate a tentative deal reached between Twins owner Carl Pohlad and sports investors Glen Taylor and Robert Naegele. Taylor owns the Minnesota Timberwolves and Naegele is the lead investor in the Minnesota Wild. Last month, the two agreed to buy the Twins for $120 million contingent on approval of the stadium tax by St. Paul voters. Naegele would not discuss the possibility of alternative arrangements for a transfer of ownership.

After last night, whatever new steps are taken, they'll have to be outside of St. Paul. Attention will now likely turn to Minneapolis and Hennepin County which have been quietly assembling a stadium package of their own. But Coleman expressed his doubts about whether such a plan could work.
Coleman: I would be supportive. I mean, I would be supportive of keeping Major League Baseball, absolutely. From the very beginning though, I didn't think that plan had any possibility. There's no way...if the people aren't going to say "yes," I don't any of the politicians are going to stand up and say we're going to do anything without the people being heard.
If the stadium debate migrates back to the west metro, organizers with Progressive Minnesota say they'll continue their fight against publicly-funded sports facilities. Johanna Jennett is a University of Minnesota student and an intern with Progressive Minnesota. She says their case has been strengthened by the St. Paul results.
Jennett: I think that winning this campaign is going to help us out a lot. Because Minneapolis is going to say, "If St. Paul didn't want it, why are we going to want it?" And I hope that hopefully they'll think about it before they try running the campaign again.
Progressive Minnesota would already have a leg up in any Minneapolis stadium discussion. During the last debate in 1997, the volunteer group successfully championed a ballot initiative limiting any city contribution for professional sports facilities at $10 million. For Minneapolis to spend more would require a ballot initiative, much like yesterday's.