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Twins sue Metrodome landlord over lease

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The lawsuit seeks to make clear that the team is under a season-to-season lease and no longer bound by a 1998 use agreement requiring it to play in the Dome. The lawsuit said the agreement expired in 2003 and subsequent talks on a new deal have stalled. (File photo)

Minneapolis, Minn. — (AP) The Minnesota Twins sued their Metrodome landlord Tuesday, asking a judge to rule that the team is under no long-term obligation to play baseball in the stadium.

Twins attorney Roger Magnuson said the lawsuit filed in Hennepin County District Court shouldn't be viewed as a first step in an attempt to move the team. For more than a decade, the team has been pursuing public money toward a new ballpark without success.

"That's not the purpose of the filing," Magnuson said. "Obviously, the hard reality is we have no obligation to play in the Metrodome next year."

"It's not a threat at all," he added.

Twins President Dave St. Peter declined to comment further.

The lawsuit seeks to make clear that the team is under a season-to-season lease and no longer bound by a 1998 use agreement requiring it to play in the Dome. The lawsuit said the agreement expired in 2003 and subsequent talks on a new deal have stalled.

The 1998 agreement was the primary tool used by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to fend off a 2001 Major League Baseball proposal to fold the Twins.

Bill Lester, the commission's executive director, said officials would prefer to have the team sign an agreement that "goes out to the first pitch of a new ballpark." He acknowledged that the lawsuit could give the team and baseball leeway they lacked in 2001.

"They would definitely be in control of their own destiny" if a judge rules they have no binding agreement, Lester said. "But they still need a place to play and Major League Baseball still needs a presence in the Upper Midwest."

In 1997, Twins owner Carl Pohlad considered selling the team to businessman Don Beaver, who wanted to move the franchise to North Carolina. The sale was to go through only if Minnesota lawmakers failed to approve money for a new ballpark. Legislators didn't pass a funding plan, but Pohlad never followed through on the deal.

This year, a Twins plan to build a ballpark with proceeds from a higher Hennepin County sales tax sat on the shelf at the Capitol. The team has lobbied hard for a special session, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty hasn't agreed to call one.

Pawlenty has fielded calls in recent days from top baseball officials, including Commissioner Bud Selig. Pawlenty said they have expressed frustration over the drawn-out stadium debate, but haven't issued an ultimatum or deadline for action.

"I wouldn't say we are getting any pressure," Pawlenty told reporters Tuesday, before word of the lawsuit emerged. "They are disappointed and concerned, but they haven't made any threats."

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the lawsuit won't affect Pawlenty's resistance to a special session without a prior agreement by legislators for a quick and decisive session with a limited agenda.

"The Twins have said for some time they have needed to clarify their lease situation so this should come as no surprise," McClung said.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, an architect of the ballpark plan, sees the lawsuit as a wake-up call for the public and state lawmakers.

"The team is not going to continue here playing in the corner of a football field," Opat said. "It might not be next year but at some point without a new ballpark they are going to find another place to be."

The lawsuit also seeks assurances that the Twins are entitled to certain accommodations during games, such as plaza and terrace suite space and proceeds from electronic advertising boards. Magnuson said the sports commission is treating the Twins differently than two other tenants, the Minnesota Vikings and University of Minnesota football team.

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