A citizens panel put together by the Minnesota Twins to look at the baseball team's future has finished its work.
After six months of study, Minnesotans for Major League Baseball says the state risks losing the Twins unless the team gets a new ballpark combined with financial reforms in big-league baseball.
Listen to a discussionof the report on a stadium for the Minnesota Twins from the group, Minnesotans For Major League Baseball from the 1/11/01 edition of MPR's Midday. Guests are Karla Blomberg, co-chair of Minnesotans For Major League Baseball and Dave Mona of New Ballpark, Inc.
LAST SUMMER the Twins put together the panel of more than 130 Minnesotans from business, political, legal, academic, and athletic circles. A smaller steering committee wrote the group's report.
For years, Twins owner Carl Pohlad and other executives have been saying the team needs the additional revenue a new ballpark could provide to compete with its high-rolling peers in the baseball industry. But their attempts to gain public funding through the Legislature and the polling place have fallen far short.
Former University of Minnesota Regent Tom Reagan, who co-chaired Minnesotans for Major League Baseball, says some group members did not accept the need for a new ballpark six months ago, but they do now. Reagan says the conclusion comes from independent study, without pressure from the Twins. In fact, Reagan says, some parts of the groups report may not be what the Twins hoped to hear.
"We just went about our business saying, 'Now, look, a lot of things have to change.' And so we're recommending that Carl put up half the cost. Now that's a big thing for us to ask for, but we think it's the right thing. We didn't go and ask Carl how he was going to feel about it and I don't know today how he feels about that," Reagan said.
Half the cost of a new open-air ballpark is estimated to be about $150 million, a larger proportion and amount than Pohlad has previously offered to put toward a new building.
Twins President Jerry Bell read a draft of the committee's report but says the team is not yet ready to respond to it.
"It's an aggressive position that the committee is taking. I think the Twins are going to have to take a little time to study this and digest the whole report and we'll react to it after we've had the opportunity to do that," said Bell.
The committee suggests the other half of a stadium cost be paid with revenue from existing taxes related to the ballpark. Without going into details, the group asserts that no new taxes would be needed if ballpark bonds were repaid using revenue from the payroll and income taxes on Twins players and staff, the sales taxes on tickets and concessions, the taxes paid by construction companies building the stadium and similar revenue.
"The hope is that the necessary steps to get things moving along are taken now and if it comes to be that Major League Baseball does not get its house in order, then you just stop everything in its tracks."
- Tom Reagan
Karla Blomberg, the other co-chair of Minnesotans for Major League Baseball, says such a plan would not hurt taxpayers.
"Nobody's property taxes will be increased. Nobody's going to pay more in sales taxes because of our proposal. There's not anything that's going to impact the specific taxpayer and yet we get a great state of the art ballpark," Blomberg said.
Three years ago state lawmakers rejected a similar proposal to apply ballpark-related taxes to construction costs. Some members of the citizens panel think a larger commitment from Pohlad and a greater sense of urgency will sway the Legislature.
But the committee also concludes that even a new ballpark is not enough to secure Minnesota's baseball future. The group says financial reform in Major League Baseball is also required. This is not a new suggestion. But some Minnesotans hope in the age of the $250 million-shortstop player salaries may finally have gotten high enough to spark a financial restructuring that will help less wealthy teams like the Twins through revenue sharing.
Should Minnesota proceed with a new ballpark absent signs of financial change in the sport?
Tom Reagan says that question was a conundrum for Minnesotans for Major League Baseball. Steering Committee member Mitch Pearlstein says Minnesota should be ready to build a ballpark as soon as baseball shows fiscal reform.
"The hope is that the necessary steps to get things moving along are taken now and if it comes to be that Major League Baseball does not get its house in order, then you just stop everything in its tracks. And you certainly don't appropriate any money and you certainly don't put a shovel in the ground until Major League Baseball fixes its own problems," Reagan said.
A separate group of Twin Cities business leaders will soon issue a report on prospects for funding a ballpark primarily with private sector money.
William Wilcoxen covers the Twin Cities for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at email@example.com.