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Committee narrows number of stadium proposals
Gov. Pawlenty's stadium screening committee started winnowing down the list of stadium plans Monday. Ten written proposals made the first cut, and sixteen were tossed out. The committee will spend the next two days scrutinizing the 10 proposals, and could take pieces from various plans to come up with a recommendation for the governor.

St. Paul, Minn. — Five communities and 21 individuals submitted proposals last week for new stadiums for the Twins, Vikings or University of Minnesota Gophers. Only 10 of those proposals move on to the next round of screening.

Committee Chairman Dan McElroy says four of them are fully developed, meaning they have both a site and a plan to pay for the stadium. Anoka County wants to build a Vikings stadium in Blaine, both Minneapolis and St. Paul have Twins proposals and Eden Prairie would build one or two stadiums.

The other six proposals that made the first cut are less specific. Burnsville is proposing a site on the Minnesota River, but there's no financing plan.

During a conference call, committee member Jamie Bestgen of St. Cloud suggested tossing out the Burnsville proposal.

"It strikes me reading their very brief proposal that they don't have much to present," he said.

Chair McElroy, who lives in Burnsville, says the city has done an environmental assessment on the site, because it is also the proposed location for an outdoor amphitheater.

"The one intriguing thing about it is the potential for fans for baseball to come by river. But there's a lot of unknowns involved also," he said.

The committee decided to let Burnsville present its plan during two days of meetings. And there are five other "concepts" the committee will consider. They include Sen. Ellen Anderson's push for community ownership of the Twins. State Rep. Tom Hackbarth is proposing a metro-area casino to fund three separate stadiums. Other plans would build a Vikings stadium in Eagan, a joint Vikings and Gophers stadium near the University of Minnesota and two stadiums near the U's St. Paul campus that would share a retractable roof.

The committee rejected another 16 ideas. One was an anonymous proposal signed by A. Citizen. Another would build a Vikings stadium with a hotel ringing the upper level. Another plan that didn't make the cut was David Willard's proposal for three separate stadiums. Willard would pay for them with a half-percent sales tax increase over four years. Willard is a Vikings season ticketholder, and says he tells everyone he knows that he's just a fan who wants to see a stadium built.

"I work for Northwest, and they say, 'Willie, I ain't gonna build you a stadium, I ain't gonna build Red McCombs a stadium, Pohlad -- they got their own money, let 'em build it.' And the way I tell 'em, is, hey, the man bought us a racecar, it should be up to us to keep it in a garage where it's protected," he said.

Willard says he's talked to legislators who worry about voter backlash if they support a new stadium. Back in 1997, opponents of a stadium bill overwhelmed the Capitol phone system and helped defeat a stadium bill.

Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, says he thinks the climate at the Capitol has changed since then.

"In '97, there was the viewpoint that the leases were way out there in the next century and we didn't have to worry about this and therefore we won't. Versus now, thinking that these are two terrific assets for the state of Minnesota, and it would be prudent to take steps now to ensure that we have these assets for the next generation of fans," Lester said.

Lawmakers passed a Twins ballpark bill in 2002, but the plan eventually fell apart. And that could always happen again this year. Several of the plans include state money, and Gov. Pawlenty has said he won't support general state revenues to build a stadium.

Screening committee chair McElroy says the committee may pick parts of the various plans and combine them into a recommendation for the governor and Legislature. That could leave a city in an awkward position. Its plan could go on to the governor, but in a form the city doesn't support.

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