MINNEAPOLIS -- With clanging bells at the Metrodome light rail station as a backdrop, the Minnesota Twins and Hennepin County announced Monday that they have agreed on a proposal to fund and construct a new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis. "I can just visualize it out there now," said Twins owner Carl Pohlad of the proposed 42,000-seat stadium that would open in 2009 in the city's historic Warehouse District. "It's something we've dreamed about, all of us." The proposed ballpark would be located at the Rapid Park site behind the Target Center, which is located at the convergence of I-394 and I-94, the Hiawatha Light Rail line and the proposed Northstar Commuter Rail line. In addition to existing parking facilities, the area would benefit from access to existing bars and restaurants and the Downtown Minneapolis business district, as well as future mixed-use development, "Twinsville," which would be modeled after the Wrigleyville neighborhood in Chicago.
Paying for a new ballpark has been a sticking point for past proposals, but the team and the county believe they've come up with a unique funding mechanism that will cover the project's $444 million price tag without tapping into the State of Minnesota's general fund. "This is the best deal we've had so far -- it's so simple and so straightforward," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports, Inc. "It doesn't involve any state money, and so many aspects of the deal are exactly what the state legislators have been asking us to come up with." Under the proposal, the Twins would contribute $125 million, including a $40 million payment up front, with the balance to be paid prior to completion of construction. Hennepin County would fund its share -- including $235 million in construction costs and approximately $84 million in site development expenses -- through a countywide sales tax increase of .15 percent, or three cents on a $20 purchase. "Like a lot of people here, I'm a resident of Hennepin County," said Twins executive board member Jim Pohlad. "Any resident can be proud of the job the county did in the negotiations. They were diligent and thoughtful, they listened to us and left nothing to be decided. There are no side agreements, nothing is hidden. "If a ballpark can't be built on this proposal," he added, "I find it hard to imagine how it ever would be." The next step is to win approval of the State Legislature, which must grant the county the authority to implement the sales-tax increase without a referendum, which the team believes would be a deal-breaker.
"It's a simple matter of economics," Bell said. "A referendum delays the project by at least a year, so now you're talking about 2010 instead of 2009, and that changes all the economics. With a referendum, the deal falls apart."
The new ballpark bills will be sponsored by Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins) in the Senate and Rep. Brad Finstad (IR-New Ulm) in the House of Representatives. While the idea has gained support from Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said through a spokesman Monday that he'd prefer the sales tax increase be put through a referendum, though he'd leave that decision to the Hennepin County Commissioners.
"I want to give the Twins and Hennepin County a fair chance to sell this at the Legislature," Pawlenty said, adding that he viewed the developments as "a reasonable proposal."
Though the team prefers a retractable-roof stadium, the current proposal calls for an open-air facility that is not roof-ready. The estimated $100 million expense of adding a roof could be provided by the state immediately or during the construction process, but the Twins and Hennepin County are prepared to proceed with a plan to bring outdoor baseball back to Minnesota.
"If the Legislature sees fit to put a roof on it, we're here and ready to accept it," Bell said. "If not, we're ready to go forward without it."
Former Twins Kent Hrbek and Paul Molitor were on hand to discuss their memories of outdoor baseball, and even in Detroit, where the Twins and Tigers were snowed out twice this weekend, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the team was ready to embrace the idea.
"There would be some cold and rough weather. But they've done it before," Gardenhire said. "They did it for a long time in Minnesota. I understand those things."
The Twins have played in the Metrodome since 1982, but have been looking for a new ballpark for at least the past decade. Although the team has won the American League Central Division in each of the past three seasons, over that span the Twins have finished no higher than 20th among the 30 Major League teams in paid attendance and 25th in gate receipts.
Additionally, in 2004 the Twins ranked between 26th and 30th in in-park concessions, advertising and publication revenues, parking revenues and stadium suite rentals.
Among other details in the proposal, the Twins would assume responsibility for construction-cost overruns; sign a 30-year, no-escape use agreement (subject to MLB approval), and share up to 18 percent of gross franchise sales proceeds should the Pohlad family sell the team.
In return for its investment, Hennepin County would own the ballpark and maintain the right to use the facility rent-free for public events. And the county would fund 70 percent of a $2 million annual budget for capital improvements at the ballpark, with the Twins kicking in the balance.
The ballpark would be the crown jewel in what local businessman Bruce Lambrecht called "the 88th neighborhood in Minneapolis," the so-called Twinsville concept that would blend new and existing entertainment, office and housing space with transit developments and parking modeled on the popular Wrigley Field area on Chicago's North Side.
|"This is the best deal we've had so far -- it's so simple and so straightforward. It doesn't involve any state money, and so many aspects of the deal are exactly what the state legislators have been asking us to come up with."|
|-- Jerry Bell, president, Twins Sports, Inc.|
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.