MINNEAPOLIS -- A judge ruled Monday that the Twins aren't bound to the Metrodome after the 2006 season, giving the team added leverage in its fight for a new stadium. Hennepin District County Judge Charles Porter Jr. ruled in favor of the Twins in the team's lawsuit against its public landlord. Porter ruled that the Twins' lease expired in 2003, leaving team owner Carl Pohlad more power to move his team, though no public talks are in the works of that nature. Though it was a decision that leaves the club open to explore other options, Twins attorney Roger Magnuson told The Associated Press that the team wants to stay.
"The purpose of this was not simply to clear the way for getting out of town," Magnuson said. "The Twins have been trying every possible way to get a suitable venue." The Twins took the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to court seeking nullification of a 1998 use agreement that required the team to play in the Dome. The lawsuit said that the deal had expired in 2003 with no new deal resulting from subsequent talks between the two groups. The commission tried to argue that the Twins behaved as a long-term tenant, although the team has operated on annual renewals since 2003. Porter wrote in his decision that the Twins are playing on a season-by-season basis and can leave the Metrodome before they start advertising, distributing tickets, securing sponsors or otherwise indicating an intent to play an upcoming season in the Dome. The issue isn't over yet, as the commission is mulling whether to appeal the decision. The commission's lawyer, Corey Ayling, told The Associated Press that he believes the Twins could still trigger a 2007 playing obligation by their actions. "If the Twins do take steps to sell tickets and reserve dates, we will define that as a renewal of the current arrangement to play ball in the Metrodome under the current terms," Ayling said. While the commission debates its next move, legislators feel an increased sense of urgency from the ruling to find a new home for the team. "I won't say this is a surprise, but it is kind of a big deal," House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon told the Star-Tribune. "This only adds to the importance of addressing this now. This issue needs to be on the 2006 [legislative] agenda." Getting the issue addressed has been a priority for the Twins. The judge's ruling came just hours after Twins officials met with leading lawmakers about their stalled stadium plan. A 90-minute meeting with the top DFL and Republican lawmakers took place at the governor's mansion on Monday. The lawmakers left the meeting with the intent to poll legislators on the issue prior to the start of the session that begins next month. The meeting was another step to see whether the team will try to approach the 2006 legislature with another ballpark proposal after a decade of trying, unsuccessfully, to pass a workable stadium plan. Last year, the Twins partnered with Hennepin County on a $478 million proposal that required no state funding. The partners needed state approval to raise the county sales tax without a voter referendum. No vote was taken on the proposal and the year-delay has added another $30 million to the proposal's costs. Lawmakers have said the state wouldn't cover that cost and Twins Sports Inc. president Jerry Bell has said that he didn't anticipate the team footing the bill, either.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.