In the Spotlight

News & Features

Twins attorney issues new demands as ballpark bill advances
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
April 3, 2002

Just as a joint House-Senate conference committee is opening hearings on Twins stadium bill, the team has issued a series of concerns it has with a financing proposal widely considered to be the most likely to win legislative support. Team officials are calling for more flexibility in how construction debt should be repaid - and by whom. But some lawmakers, including those who support the stadium plan, say the Twins' request could stall a final deal.

Lawmakers, along with some key stadium supporters, have recently called on the Twins to state more explicitly what the team is willing to offer for construction of a $330 million roof-ready ballpark. But rather than outline the size of an upfront contribution or commit to a certain level of annual payments, Twins president Jerry Bell says what the team needs is fewer specifics and more flexibility.

"If you weigh the deal down with so much rigidity you can't get it done, that doesn't make any sense," says Bell. "You can still accomplish your fundamental goals by - instead of being so rigid - allow a little flexibility."

Although the House and Senate have passed significantly different ballpark bills, most lawmakers have come to support some version of the House proposal - itself modeled on a plan from Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration. That plan requires an upfront $165 million contribution from the team and other private sources to be placed in an investment account.

The earnings on those investments would, over 30 years, retire the construction bonds as well as cover a portion of annual interest payments. But Bell says specifics of the deal should be left for negotiations between the team and a potential host city - a host city which is expected to offer up to $10 million a year in interest through local bar and restaurant taxes.

Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, was a key player in developing the House proposal. He says loosening the specific requirements established in the bill could create difficulties.

"If you listen to the Twins and their continued use of the word 'flexibility,' the more flexibility you put in the bill, the fewer safeguards you have in the bill, the fewer votes you get on the House floor," says Abrams.

In fact, the Twins are asking that a letter of credit - required in the legislation as added security - be removed, except in certain cases where owners and players are without a contract and therefore face an increased chance of a baseball strike or lockout.

They're also seeking to erase a requirement that Major League Baseball commit to keeping a franchise in Minnesota for 30 years. Even without those and other provisions, Bell says taxpayers would still be protected.

Bell says the state commissioner of finance would have final approval of any financing package. He says as a practical matter, no investors would buy stadium construction bonds if they didn't believe the deal was sound. Bell says the added flexibility is necessary to help owner Carl Pohlad sell the team.

Attorney Ralph Strangis has been hired by the team to evaluate potential buyers. He told the committee that as the legislation is currently written, there have been no takers.

"No one has stepped forward as an owner that is willing to undertake the process today," says Strangis. "And by the way, my phone didn't ring any more after the House bill was passed than before the House bill was passed."

Strangis says it's too difficult for the current owners to negotiate a deal that future owners will have to live by - hence the need for negotiating room.

But stadium opponents say the bill is already too flexible. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, says removing specific requirements would only give the team more power to squeeze tax dollars from a local host. He particularly objected to another Twins request to abolish as economic reform in baseball as precondition for state involvement.

"Everybody I heard who were proponents of the stadium bill last year, they didn't just say they would accept that. They promised it. They said, 'We won't turn a shovelful of dirt, we won't begin building a stadium, until baseball fixes its economy.' And yet, 'Oh, we've got to take that out of here because it's a deal-killing amendment!'" says Marty.

The conference committee is expected to resume work on the bill Friday when members hear from the third partner in stadium dance - potential host communities.

More from MPR
  • What's the difference? See a comparison of the various stadium bills at the Capitol.
  • Session 2002 Issue Brief: Stadium