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Twins' Stadium Bill is Barely Breathing
By Michael Khoo, Minnesota Public Radio
March 29, 2001

The move to build a new Twins stadium with partial state funding has cleared a crucial legislative committee. The favorable vote comes just one day before the first deadline for committee action, but the legislation still faces significant obstacles. A number of lawmakers and citizens' groups remain staunchly opposed to public funding for a new ballpark.

Tom Goldstein, publisher of the literary baseball magazine, Elysian Fields, testified against the stadium proposal. Listen to his testimony.
AFTER BRUISING BALLPARK BATTLES in 1997 and 1999, the Minnesota Twins have now scored a minor victory. The Senate State and Local Government committee approved the financing package on a divided voice vote, leading Twins president Jerry Bell to offer this brief diagnosis.

"As alive as it has to be at this point," he said.

The plan calls for a $300 million outdoor ballpark to be located somewhere in the seven-county metropolitan area. Half the funding would come from the Twins and other private donors. The state would provide the rest through a mix of grants, tax breaks, and an interest-free loan. The bill now moves to the Senate Taxes Committee, but committee chair Larry Pogemiller says he's in no hurry to hear the legislation.

"It's breathing, but very low on the priority list," according to Pogemiller. "It's alive in the Senate, but it will not even get out of the barely-breathing stage unless we adequately fund education, transportation, and let me throw in access to health care."

Pogemiller says he'd prefer a ballpark solution with more private funding. The citizens' group New Ballpark, Incorporated has been studying just such a proposal. Their plan calls for a scaled-back stadium that wouldn't require a state subsidy.

Tom Goldstein helped draft New Ballpark's recommendations, and he also publishes a quarterly baseball journal. But Goldstein says the Twins won't accept a private financing plan as long as state lawmakers hold out the hope of public subsidies.

"It's just like buying the town drunk another round instead of cutting off the tap and putting him in rehab and giving him a hand. That's what the Twins need. The Twins need rehab. The need to just get off this path and start looking seriously at private solutions," Goldstein said.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, the chief Senate sponsor of the Twins stadium bill, says there's still time to consider a greater role for private donors. Speaking just after the committee vote, Johnson noted lawmakers approved an amendment reserving stadium naming rights for the municipality that hosts the facility. Naming rights have generated up to $100 million for other ballparks and sports arenas.

"Now, did we make movement? Absolutely. On the naming rights. The naming rights two hours ago were not part of this bill. Now they're part of the bill. The proceeds will go to the community for the upkeep of the ballpark. So we're making progress and we're not using the taxpayers money to do it," Johnson said.

The stadium debate is likely to move to the House now, where Republican leaders are less sympathetic. A House companion bill has yet to have a hearing, and its chief author acknowledges a stadium isn't a high priority for many legislators.

Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, says he expects to get a hearing within the next two weeks.

"This is an intriguing idea. It's the best attempt to have the Twins in Minnesota for a long period of time, and it deserves a hearing like most other bills that come in front of us," Mares said.
If the Twins legislation survives upcoming legislative battles, it could still find a chilly reception in the governor's office. Ventura says the debate is not on his radar screen, and he and repeated his reservations about an interest-free loan.