Gov. aims to keep ballpark deal alive

Gov. aims to keep Twins ballpark deal alive

ST. PAUL (AP) -- Seeking to keep a Twins stadium deal alive, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he'll personally host talks to work out a proposal before next year's legislative session.

After a 45-minute meeting Tuesday with Hennepin County Commissioners Mike Opat and Randy Johnson, Pawlenty said he will invite the Twins and Hennepin County officials to the governor's residence for discussions.

An agreement between the county and the team to build a baseball stadium in downtown Minneapolis expires Saturday. Pawlenty didn't set a date for his talks, but said he'd like to keep the stadium in focus ahead of the legislative session that starts March 1.

"It's really important to keep the Twins in Minnesota," the GOP governor said. "It would be in the best interests of the state to have an agreement between the Twins and Hennepin County that the Legislature could consider no later than March."

Opat, the county board's lead stadium supporter, came out of the meeting saying he was encouraged by Pawlenty's position, but there's no guarantee a new deal could be negotiated, even with the governor himself leading talks.

"We're in uncharted territory," Opat told reporters. "Our deadlines are not imaginary."

Jerry Bell, president of the Twins' parent company, sounded downright discouraged.

"If he has a meeting, we'll go, but this deal expires," Bell said. "When you meet, that's fine but what's going to be different? That's what I need to know. We had an agreement that most people liked, the governor told us it was reasonable. ... It didn't even get voted on."

Legislators didn't act on a critical piece of the deal -- approval of a higher Hennepin County-only sales tax that would amount to 3 cents on a $20 purchase to help pay for the $508 million project. Controversy centered on whether to hold a referendum on raising the sales tax, which the team says would be a deal-killer.

Stadium backers pushed hard for a special session this fall to approve the sales tax, but those negotiations fizzled when legislative leaders and Pawlenty couldn't agree on an agenda.

"If that environment doesn't change, it doesn't matter. It's not going to go anyplace," Bell said. "Obviously it manifests itself not just in the stadium -- it comes about with government shutdowns, no budget being agreed to, no bonding bill. They're not picking on us, it's just the way they operate."

It's unclear what priority a Twins stadium would have during the 2006 session, which precedes a major election that will put all 201 legislative seats, the governor's office and other statewide elected offices on the line.

University of Minnesota Gophers supporters are pushing for a new football stadium on campus, and the Minnesota Vikings also want a new football stadium.