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Twins Stadium Gets Cool Reception in Senate Committee
By Marisa Helms
March 22, 2001

A Twins ballpark bill generated little support or enthusiasm from lawmakers Thursday night at its first Senate committee hearing. After hearing testimony on the bill, members of the State and Local Government Operations Committee asked few questions and put aside the bill until at least next week - when it faces a critical legislative deadline.

AS WITH PAST STADIUM PROPOSALS, THE LATEST BILL FOR A NEW TWINS BALLPARK IS A HARD SELL. Chief Senate author Dean Johnson told the committee the Twins require a new baseball-only stadium to remain in Minnesota. The Willmar DFLer showed charts indicating how the only League teams with increased revenues are those with new stadiums. Johnson said his bill would require Major League Baseball to institute some form of revenue sharing, to ensure smaller-market teams can be financially competitive with those in lucrative large markets. But Johnson's main selling point was the fact that the Twins provide quality family time. He says research shows 60 to 70 percent of baseball spectators attend games with family members.

"I have seen many times, a young man or a young woman, along with his or her father or mother, heading to a baseball game with a Minnesota Twins cap on, and a baseball glove, a smile on their face - with high expectations that they will catch a foul ball or a home run," said Johnson.

The cost of the park is estimated at $300 million. The Twins are committing to pay for half - $150 million. Twins President Jerry Bell says it will be financed, but he won't say exactly how.

"There's a number of different ways. It's our responsibility, we'll do it," Bell said.

The bill calls for the state to put up the remaining $150 million to fund the project. The proposal asks that money come from a combination of sources: $10 million in a sales tax exemption on ballpark construction materials, $40 million in a government-backed revenue bond, and the remaining $100 million from an interest-free loan to the Twins from the state's Assigned Risk Pool, created by dues from the business and labor communities. That loan would be paid back in 20 years.

Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna told stadium supporters that they have a lot more work to do if they're going to sell the proposal to Senate Republicans.

"As of right now, this isn't a priority to my members. They are interested more in health care, education, transportation and other things," said Day.

Committee Chairman Jim Vickerman says, aside from Day's pronouncement, he didn't get a very good read on what lawmakers think of the proposal. He says he has mixed feelings, mainly because he doesn't think his constituents will support the bill.

"I love the Twins. My son works in a nursing home, and his people watch them constantly. It's the fear that, when I'm back home they'll tell me, 'no stadium,'" said Vickerman.

No citizens testified at the hearing, and nobody testified against the proposal. Vickerman says he was puzzled by the lack of citizen opposition.

The committee took no action on the bill. Vickerman offered to hold another hearing again next week. He told committee members to go home to their constituents this weekend, and ask them if they want a new Twins stadium. Vickerman's committee will be a key test, because House leaders are less supportive of stadium legislation and unlikely to give the ballpark bill a hearing unless the Senate can show it has some life. The committee must act on the bill by the end of next week, when lawmakers face their first committee deadline of the session.