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Stadium deal heads to Legislature after Hennepin County Board approval
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The Minnesota Twins presented postcards in support of the stadium proposal to members of the Hennepin County Board. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners voted 4-to-3 to send a Twins stadium proposal to the state Legislature. The Board is seeking approval from the Legislature to impose a county-wide sales tax increase to fund most of the cost of the stadium. The board made its decision after several hours of emotional public testimony and debate.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Over 50 people testified for and against the Hennepin County Board's stadium funding proposal. A slight majority spoke in favor of it. But the most vocal speakers to testify in front of the seven-member board opposed the plan.

"As an economist I want to tell you this is a bad proposal," said Dr. Kenneth Zapp, who teaches economics at Metro State University. Zapp says the county negotiated too much revenue away to the Twins.

"The proposal virtually gives the stadium to the Twins. Because the proposal allows the Twins to capture all of the important revenue: naming rights, seat license fees, concession contracts; advertising. Everything goes to the team."

Under the agreement the Twins will contribute $125 million and they will be responsible for any construction cost overruns. The Twins have also agreed to contribute over a half a million dollars a year toward capital improvements for the stadium.

The county will contribute over $300 million for construction and for land acquisition and infrastructure costs. The board is seeking authority from the state of Minnesota to raise those funds through a sales tax increase that amounts to three cents on every $20 purchase.

However, many proposal opponents, like John Knight from Minnetonka, took issue with the board's desire to pass the tax increase without a referendum.

"Why are you afraid of a referendum? Do you not trust us the voters? Are you afraid that some of the commissioners may find out that their views don't necessarily represent the views of the voters? The message you're sending regarding democracy is not good," he said.

Commissioners who favor the proposal have defended their position against a referendum by saying allowing the public to vote on the tax would take too much time. They say a referendum would kill the deal with the Twins because material costs and interest rates on the bonds would go up during the months it would take to prepare the measure for the ballot.

Those commissioners also say as elected officials they are well within their authority to raise taxes and use public dollars on items which they believe will help citizens of Hennepin County.

Supporters of the stadium, like Sharon Bredesen, agree.

"Minneapolis is now considered a major league city. We've got to make sure we stay in that category," she said.

Bredesen is the president of Staff Plus, a temporary staffing company in Minneapolis. She is also the chair of the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association. Bredesen was one of dozens of business owners and labor leaders who hailed the stadium proposal as a way to boost tourism, economic development and jobs in the city.

"So this investment in the stadium, in our city, in our region and the state is viable to Minneapolis. And the new jobs are key," Bredesem said.

Other proponents of the plan were baseball fans who said they were eager to see baseball played in an outdoor stadium. And others expressed a desire to keep the Twins from moving to another city.

Carolyn Lawrence waxed nostalgic about the Twins first World Series win in 1987. She described what it was like the night the Twins came back to the dome after beating the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis.

"That place had, I heard afterward, 66,000 people in it. There wasn't a fight. There wasn't anybody ragging anybody else. I tell you this story because I really don't care about the details of the stadium. I care that the Twins stay in Minneapolis," she said.

Following the public hearing, commissioners offered amendments and debate over the merits of the proposal. Commissioner Linda Koblick tried to postpone the vote until after the county could conduct at least three more public hearings in order to get more public input from citizens.

"We have 1.1 million people in Hennepin County who are going to be affected on an economic decision as this goes forward. We ought to be holding public hearings out in the community," Koblick said.

Koblick was successful in adding an amendment that requires three public hearings held outside the county's downtown offices. However the hearings will only happen if the state Legislature approves the boards request to authorize the tax levy.

Then the board will have vote again to pass the tax increase.