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Watkins: Following the money
By Jay Reeves
Associated Press
January 12, 2002

Alabama investment banker Donald Watkins has expressed an interest in buying the Minnesota Twins. He was a guest on MPR's Midday on 12/19/01. Listen

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Dollar signs and zeros seem to come easily for Donald V. Watkins, the Alabama businessman trying to buy the Minnesota Twins.

Watkins is cagey about disclosing the exact source or amount of his wealth, which is all privately held. But he provided a basic outline of his path to riches in an interview with The Associated Press.

Major League Baseball officials who reviewed his finances in a meeting Thursday in New York found them substantial enough to give him the green light to talk to the Minnesota Twins about buying the team.

Watkins, a lawyer, said he began investing in 1986. That was near the start of a period in which he billed the cities of Birmingham and Montgomery for more than $10 million in legal fees.

Watkins said he made his first major deal in 1996, sinking money - a lot more than $10 million - into alcohol-based versions of fuel additives that are needed to make unleaded gasoline.

"It was $500 million or $600 million," said Watkins, unable to recall the exact amount he put into the project. "I invested both in the technology to do it and the production itself."

Watkins said he put money into alcohol-based additives twice more in 1998 in bigger deals. Then, in 1999, California began phasing out a leading petroleum-based additive called MTBE, a competitor of alcohol-based additives.

Watkins' assets already were increasing, and they got another boost when a panel recommended in July 1999 that the Environmental Protection Agency phase out the use of MTBE nationally.

States continue to ban the use of MTBE, making Watkins' investment in alcohol-based additives all the more valuable.

"It was the combination of the 1996 investments in energy and the two investments in 1998 that turned out to be the jackpot for me," he said.

Watkins has since gotten into petroleum, investing in domestic oil wells. "They have been very successful. I mean, I was just lucky on that," he said. "The oil wells were paying out over a 20-year period, and they already are paying."

Watkins said he will sell some of his energy investments to generate cash if he is able to buy the Twins. Still, he will have more.

In 1999, Watkins founded Alamerica Bank, a small commercial lender that has a two-story building in Birmingham, and he is on the board of Chapman Co., an investment firm in Baltimore, Md.

Watkins also is a partner with a son in a company that has blocks of seats or suites at sporting arenas in Atlanta and Baltimore. He wants to add a suite at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for Lakers games.

"It would be good to have. I'm doing a lot of business out there," said Watkins.

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