In the Spotlight

News & Features
If Twins leave, will the Twin Cities' luster take a walk too?
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
December 27, 2001
Click for audio RealAudio

If Major League Baseball moves ahead with its contraction plans and cuts the Twins before next season, some have suggested that the Twin Cities reputation as a major league city sports location would be in jeopardy. However, economists say the fallout from the loss of the team would be more psychological than economic.

Moe Sharif, left, invested $2 million a year ago to turn his old diner into a high-end restaurant, to take advantage of NHL hockey in St. Paul. Anoush Anasari, right, a consultant who helped the owner remodel the restaurant, says a Twins stadium in St. Paul would boost sales. He isn't too worried about the proposed 3-percent tax increase.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

When the American League expanded in 1960 and sent the Washington Senators to Minnesota, Minneapolis and St. Paul entered the big leagues- big-league baseball anyway.

The Twins took the field one year later. Over the next four decades, they played in three World Series, winning two titles. Those championships brought the state national exposure and some say it created community spirit.

The Twins moved from Metropolitan Stadium to the Metrodome in 1982. Nearly 20 years later, the Twins may fold because the dome doesn't offer team owner Carl Pohlad enough profit. The league hasn't officially named the team, but Pohlad said the Twins are at the top of the list.

If the league delays contraction for a year, many believe building a new stadium could save the team. If it isn't built and the franchises folds, there is a fear the Twin Cities reputation will lose some of its shine. "The image of being a major league city is more important than might immediately be apparent," says Sam Grabarski of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, who adds that businesses often consider first a city's sports and arts scene before making relocation plans.

If the Twin Cities loses the Twins, he says the area could lose out in the competition for new jobs. Ultimately, existing businesses and the tax base will suffer. "I just know that it has an economic impact. If the team isn't there people are out of jobs and those dollars are not circulating in the downtown economy," he says.

However, some economists don't buy Grabarski's arguments. They say the money spent on professional sports franchises won't simply dry up. They say the Twins dollar would be diverted to other forms of entertainment, such as the theater or the movies.

Front page of Minneapolis Tribune
A Minneapolis Tribune front page heralded the arrival of the Washington Senators baseball franchise. The Senators were renamed the Twins when they began play in Minnesota. See larger image
(Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist says while professional sports may improve a community's sense of self worth, they don't have a lasting impact on the overall economy. He says there are plenty of cities that don't have a pro baseball team and still consider themselves world class.

"There's no evidence Los Angeles has diminished in stature ever since they lost its two NFL franchises and there's no evidence from all the empirical work that a lot of independent economists have done to suggest that it hurts a city economically. One could even make the argument that standing up to baseball is something that could make it gain in stature," Zimbalist says.

But standing up to baseball is a gamble many Minnesotans don't want to take. A litany of polls show most Minnesotans oppose public funding for a new ball park.

However, since contraction was announced in November, lawmakers scrambled for a stadium solution. Stadium supporters say a new ballpark will not only help keep the Twins but could be an economic boost to a community. They say the proof is found on the east side of the Mississippi River.

Supporters say the vitality of downtown St. Paul proves the value of pro sports. Since the Minnesota Wild's inaugural season, thousands have flocked to the Xcel Energy Center in the once dormant downtown to watch hockey. The arena also hosts concerts and other sporting events. Many, like outgoing St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, say the two-yead-old arena has brought the downtown to life.

"You would have to be blind to see the impact the Minnesota Wild and the Xcel has had. By the way it's not just the Wild, Pavorrotti was just here recently. Big crowds came and were spending a lot of money. Restaurants throughout the city filled up," Coleman says.

"The new facilities tend to become shopping centers and they tend to take business away from the community in which they are located"

- Roger Noll, sports economist

Coleman and Mayor-elect Randy Kelly have a plan to capitalize on the momentum created by pro hockey, by luring the Twins to St.Paul. They've proposed a stadium financing plan for a new Twins ballpark that includes game-day parking revenues and a 3-percent food and beverage tax.

Downtown restaurant owners love the idea. The Twins would bring thousands to the downtown area at least 81 more times a year. They says the increased masses would help fill up downtown businesses and restaurants like the Downtowner Woodfire Grille.

On a typical game night, the Downtowner is packed with hockey fans. On this night, there's a 45-minute wait for a table and bartenders hustle behind the bar juggling drink orders from servers and people at the crowded bar. The owner says he invested $2 million a year ago to turn his old diner into a high-end restaurant. He says his sales increased five fold when it reopened four months ago.

Anoush Anasari, a consultant who helped the owner remodel the restaurant, says a Twins stadium would boost sales. He isn't too worried about the proposed 3-percent tax increase.

"You're going to get a few price-conscious customers who are going to say "why's the price going up" and it also makes it a little more challenging on pricing items. The business definitely will help us," according to Anasari.

However, economists say the success of businesses surrounding sports arenas is minimal. Stanford University economist Roger Noll says he isn't surprised some businesses adjacent to the arena are making more money.

But he says businesses a half mile from the stadium don't experience the same success. In fact, he says new stadiums are designed to keep people and their wallets out of local businesses and at the stadium.

"The new facilities tend to become shopping centers and they tend to take business away from the community in which they are located. They do not create ancillary businesses in the way that facilities used to do so before so much of the concession activity and ancillary revenue activity was put inside the facility," Noll says.

However, Noll says citizens should consider the Twins overall value to the state. He says if there's a belief professional sports improves the quality of life in the state then.

"You have to bite the bullet and say is it really worth it to me to throw a couple of hundred million dollars at the Twins to keep them. Knowing full well that you're not doing it because there's not some great public benefit from it. I'm doing it because a monopoly baseball league can force me to do it," he says.

Noll believes Major League Baseball will have to delay contraction plans for at least a year. He says lawsuits and the union's legal efforts will soon bump up against spring training in February. If contraction is delayed, he says politicians, business executives and the public have to consider the Twins value and whether the team makes the community world class. If they believe it's not worth hundreds of millions of dollars to build the ballpark, he says it's likely the team will eventually either fold or move.