Ballpark Q&A with Jerry Bell

Ballpark Q&A with Jerry Bell

The latest -- and potentially most successful -- ballpark plan is being discussed by Hennepin County commissioners, and could be passed along to the State Legislature in the first week of May. Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports, Inc., sat down with to discuss the team's perspective on the proposal, the ballpark itself, and the future of baseball in Minnesota. We've been down this road many times before. What specifically about this plan should give Twins fans reason to believe the results will be different this time?

Jerry Bell: There seems to be more widespread support for this plan than there has been in the past, generally speaking. Why is this a good plan for both the Twins and Minnesota taxpayers?

JB: I think everybody decides that for themselves, but as far as we're concerned, this is critical. This is about our future, and for a long time we've known we need a baseball park to be part of our future, not a football stadium. As far as the public is concerned, obviously they have to decide on their own if keeping baseball in Minnesota is a good thing. I think most people do, and the public participation on this -- three cents on 20 dollars in Hennepin County, and that excludes food, clothing and medical supplies -- they have to decide how they feel about that. For the first time, we've got a site-specific proposal. How did you settle on the Rapid Park site over the Minneapolis riverfront area or St. Paul, and how is a single-site proposal going to be advantageous in gaining legislative approval?

JB: Both communities wanted us to make a decision and be site-specific and not make this a competition between the cities. The Rapid Park site was chosen for a number of reasons -- accessibility, the transportation advantages were terrific with light rail, commuter rail, and 23,000 parking spots within a block, and it could be completed in Hennepin County without any state money at all. How do you respond to critics who say public money should not be part of any ballpark proposal, given the other basic needs that are going unmet in some cities and households?

JB: I think when you take a look at history, there's been public money in the Mall of America, the Xcel Energy Center, the Guthrie Theater, light rail, commuter rail, the convention center, and the Metrodome. All of those were controversial before they were built, and I don't know how many people would want to take any of them away now. Many people have pointed to other teams -- the Giants, Cardinals, possibly the Yankees -- who have funded new ballparks primarily with private funds. Why isn't that a feasible solution here in Minnesota?

JB: Primarily the size of the market dictates that. Some of those were real-estate plays as well, and this is not. In the past, the team has favored a retractable-roof stadium. What has caused you to change your tune on the roof?

JB: We haven't really changed our tune. We continue to believe it's the best way to go, but it gets back to what's realistic and what's not. If we include a retractable roof, it would require state money, and after nine years of trying to do that, it's quite clear that's not going to happen. In light of that, we made the decision that playing in an outdoor stadium without a roof would be substantially better than continuing to play in the Metrodome. Gov. Pawlenty called the proposal "reasonable" this week, and the leaders of both the House and the Senate have expressed their support. Yet, nobody thinks this will be a slam dunk at the Legislature. If the County Commissioners approve the proposal, what hurdles do you have yet to clear to make the ballpark a reality?

JB: I think, first of all, we're concerned the Legislature will run out of time and never get to vote on it. That's a very big concern, because that happened last year. The ground rules are the same -- they're not going to deal with a ballpark until they finish their work on the budget, but they did pass a bonding bill already, so that's good. If they go on and on before they resolve those matters and run out of time, we would consider that devastating, but it's out of our control. Nobody wants to make threats, but Jim Pohlad did say that if this proposal isn't accepted, he can't imagine what would be. Is it fair to say that this is the team's last chance to get a new ballpark built?

JB: I agree with Jim. If we can't do this, then I can't imagine what it would be. What can Twins fans do to help in the process?

JB: If this passes Hennepin County, I think there's nothing more important than to contact legislators. You can call them, you can e-mail them or drop them a note, and they do appreciate hearing from their constituents. So if you think this is a good idea, you should tell somebody.

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.