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Things begin to look up for Twins
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
February 6, 2002
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Alabama businessman Donald Watkins was in Minneapolis Wednesday to assess potential ballpark sites. Watkins is exploring a possible purchase of the Minnesota Twins and has pledged to build a new stadium entirely with private dollars if he's able to acquire the team. Meanwhile, Gov. Jesse Ventura says he hasn't changed his stance on a ballpark, despite a willingness to call a special session if lawmakers can't address the issue in the regular course of business.

R.T. Rybak and Donald Watkins
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, left, and potential Twins owner Donald Watkins, right, survey a location for a possible new stadium for the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday Feb. 6, 2002. Read more about Watkins' visit to the Twin Cities.
(MPR Photo/William Wilcoxen)

Watkins met with Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak to take a walk-around of a potential downtown ballpark site. Watkins, who has met recently with officials from Major League Baseball as well as with Twins owner Carl Pohlad, said confidentiality agreements prevent him from discussing any purchase negotiations.

"All I can tell you is that right now, in my office this is the number-one priority. I work it every day, every night. I have a team of investment bankers, a team of tax accountants, construction firms, all of them working, trying to get information available so that we can process it and make some decisions," Watkins said.

Watkins says he was unable to arrange a similar tour in St. Paul, where Mayor Randy Kelly has floated a plan to build a ballpark in part through a local bar and restaurant tax. Watkins, on the other hand, has pledged to finance a stadium strictly with private dollars if a sale can be successfully negotiated.

Gov. Jesse Ventura says that possibility could prevent many headaches at the Capitol. But Ventura also says if necessary, he'd considered calling lawmakers into special session to resolve the stadium issue.

"I just view that whatever support we can give to keep the Twins in Minnesota, we certainly are available to do that, and not going beyond the calling of a special session if they don't, but there are higher priority work to do which may consume the whole session," Ventura said.

Ventura says he expects lawmakers to patch a projected budget deficit of $2 billion over the next year and a half as well as an ongoing $1.2 billion hole. He'll also want to see a capital investments bill and a redistricting plan before tackling stadium financing.

Steve Sviggum
Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says there should be plenty of time to deal with all legislative matters in the course of the regular session, including any stadium legislation.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

Assistant Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger says he agrees with Ventura's priorities, but the Mankato Democrat also welcomed the governor's support for a stadium solution.

"On the positive side, I think it reflects the work of the commission that has gone around the state and taken public input and a recognition by the governor that support for finding a financing proposal has grown," he said.

The stadium panel has proposed two new stadiums - one for the Twins, one to be shared by the Vikings and the University of Minnesota Gophers. The state's portion of construction costs would be repaid through a menu of new taxes, surcharges, and revenues designed not to drain resources from the state's general fund.

Hottinger says, however, that talk of a special session is premature at this point. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum agrees. He says there should be plenty of time to deal with all legislative matters in the course of the regular session.

"After the legislative session deals with the budget issues and transportation issue, we certainly would have time to bring a quick stadium vote to the House and Senate floors. I don't know why we'd need special sessions. I mean, we're one week into this session, why would we be talking special sessions? I have no idea," Sviggum said.

Sviggum, too, noted Watkins visit to the Twin Cities. And he echoed the governor, saying if Watkins can clinch a deal, there will be little left for lawmakers to consider.

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