Twins ballpark still in question

ST. PAUL -- Listening to legislators discuss the prospect of approving a Minnesota Twins stadium is a bit like listening to the team's fans before the season.

ST. PAUL -- Listening to legislators discuss the prospect of approving a Minnesota Twins stadium is a bit like listening to the team's fans before the season.

Now, before baseball's first exhibition game, fans predict a World Series championship, but that doesn't mean they will see one in October. And 2½ weeks before the legislative session begins, most lawmakers say they support building a Twins ballpark, but that doesn't mean they will pass one.

A survey of urban, suburban and rural legislators from both parties uncovered little opposition to a ballpark, but enough differences remain to make passage uncertain.

"If we don't find a reasonable way to address the Twins stadium dilemma, we could lose our Minnesota Twins," Gov. Tim Pawlenty told reporters last week.

A court ruling last week gave the Twins permission to leave the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis after this year. Twins officials say they don't make enough money playing in the dome, in part because the football Vikings control many of the profitable features such as luxury suites.


Twins fans and lawmakers fear if a new stadium is not approved soon, aging owner Carl Pohlad or, eventually, his estate could decide to move the team. Or baseball owners could decide to eliminate the Twins.

Twins President Jerry Bell said in an interview that he doesn't know what the team will do if lawmakers reject a new ballpark, but staying in Minnesota is the first choice.

"We want to sign a 30-year agreement, but we want to be in a new ballpark," Bell said.

However, Bell said that he is pessimistic lawmakers will approve a new stadium after a decade of debate.

"Something has to change, and what has to change is the politics," Bell added.

The most divisive issue is whether Hennepin County voters should have the final say whether part of the stadium financing will come from an increased sales tax only in their county -- 3 cents for every $20 in purchases.

Some legislators say a public vote must be part of the package. Others say Hennepin County commissioners can decide. Many observers say voters would reject the tax.

Another factor is that this is an election year and in the decade-long debate, some legislators have lost re-election after they voted for stadiums. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said many lawmakers are afraid of voting for a stadium.


This year's debate is in a holding pattern nearly three weeks before a short legislative session begins.

A ballpark proposal Hennepin County and the Twins delivered last year no longer is on the table, although Bell said any new proposal probably would resemble the 2005 plan. However, construction costs have gone up an estimated $30 million in a year, and no one wants to pick up the added expense.

Pawlenty told legislative leaders last week to discuss stadium prospects with their members. If there seems to be enough support, the Twins and Hennepin County will get back together and update last year's proposal.

Lawmakers in general say they back a University of Minnesota football stadium, with a Twins ballpark No. 2.

Approving a Vikings football stadium is doubtful this year, most lawmakers say. The Vikings plan to release their proposal for a new stadium Thursday.

The survey of legislators showed most rural lawmakers like last year's Twins proposal.

"I thought it was about as good as you can get," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said.

"The people of rural Minnesota are not paying for the stadium unless they shop in Hennepin County or go to the games," added Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, a co-author of the 2005 Twins bill. "We are not taking money away from things that we should be funding in rural Minnesota."


"It does not take any money away from property tax relief, education or health care," Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.

Rep. Dean Simpson, R-New York Mills, said the possibility of the Twins leaving the state "has turned up the pressure."

"The public is at a point where they want something done," Simpson said. "This discussion has been ongoing for a long time and people want it to come to a head."

Urdahl said last week's court ruling may spur action.

"In some members, it may create a greater sense of urgency," said Urdahl, who has written a book about the Twins. "My gut reaction is we probably will have a vote."

Urdahl gives the ballpark a 50-50 chance of success. "The big hang-up is the (Hennepin County) referendum, in my (GOP) caucus anyway."

Like many rural lawmakers, Urdahl would like to see a roof on the stadium, but that was not part of the 2005 plan unless the state paid for it.

Voters in his area want a new ballpark, Urdahl said.


"Almost every place that I go, someone talks to me about the Twins stadium, and they are overwhelmingly for it," he said.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said many lawmakers would like to see the Twins pay for more stadium construction costs, but "the reality is we really have strong support to keep the Twins in Minnesota with our constituents."

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