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Twins: Ballpark Plan Lands Foul
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
May 11, 2001

There's good news and bad news for the Minnesota Twins. Lawmakers on Friday revived discussion on a new outdoor ballpark - but in an effort to generate more support, they've removed most of the public financing from the package. Twins officials say legislators may have gone too far, making the stadium deal unpalatable to the franchise.

The Twins' unexpected success on the ball field has helped jump-start a stadium drive that many believed dead last month. The House Tax Committee is reconsidering the ballpark issue, but only after removing most of the public subsidies. Twins President Jerry Bell isn't optimistic the team will accept the new package. "Right now I'd say it's doubtful," he said after the committee's hearing.

Bell says he'll discuss the proposal with team owner Carl Pohlad over the weekend before the committee vote expected for Monday. The previous stadium plan contemplated a $140 million interest-free loan and a sales-tax-free zone in and around the ballpark. The new plan cancels the tax exemption and imposes a market interest rate, estimated at around 6 percent. Lawmakers say the only state contribution will be waiving the taxes on construction materials for the $300 million ballpark, a break estimated to be worth about $10 million. Bell wouldn't detail his objections to the proposal, but he made clear in committee that the team can't be expected to build the stadium on its own and still compete with teams playing in publicly subsidized ballparks.

"We operate in a subsidized industry. That's a fact. Particularly as it relates to facilities," Bell said. "To think that any private citizen, no matter how wealthy, can compete with the rest of the country subsidizing their portion of the industry is ludicrous. You can't do it."

The bill's chief House author, Rep. Harry Mares, says the new plan obligates the Twins to finance 97 percent of the stadium, one of the largest private contributions among recently constructed ballparks. He says legislators are obligated to negotiate shrewdly, but he says inflexibility could ruin the deal.

"It's our responsibility to drive a hard bargain and yet not drive the team away. Where's the line? Where do you cross the line? Maybe this bill did it," said Mares, R-White Bear Lake.

House Republican leaders, however, have have insisted on limiting the state's role as a condition of approval. Tax Committee Chairman Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, says he'll withhold final judgment until he hears all sides of the discussion. But he notes even with the the reduced public funding, some lawmakers have reservations about the team's agenda if the House and Senate sit down to negotiate a deal.

"There's a suspicion among a number of members that what the Twins want is a bill to get to a conference committee, and that they'll have the conferees do whatever the Twins want. And then it comes back for one vote and you're either voting for or against baseball," Abrams said.

A separate Twins package is on hold in the Senate pending House action. By some estimates the Senate plan obligates the state to cover more than half the cost of the stadium. Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar and the Senate author of the ballpark proposal, says the House approach may have gone too far.

"I think the House has taken the beaver approach to the ballpark. And that's just kind of chipping away at it and trying to decimate what I think is a very good proposal from day one," Johnson said. "Having said that, I think that there are options that we can look at in regard to the financing."

Johnson says it's too early to say what form a compromise might take. He only notes that any deal will have to satisfy the lawmakers, the public and the Twins.

Michael Khoo covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at