The normally quiet audience launched into a spontaneous round of applause when former Twins first baseman and World Series hero Kent Hrbek, whose retired No. 14 jersey hangs from the ceiling of the Metrodome, came to the podium and testified to the committee.
Hrbek, a native Minnesotan who spent 13 seasons in a Twins uniform before retiring in 1994, told the gathered state representatives that the proposed ballpark "is not for the Minnesota Twins or for (Twins owner) Carl Pohlad, it's for the people of Minnesota to come and watch a ballgame the way that baseball is supposed to be watched."
Others testifying in favor of the bill, which calls for the team and Hennepin County taxpayers to collaborate in the building of a new open-air ballpark in the Warehouse District north of the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, noted that Hrbek had just recently retired when this issue was first heard before the State Legislature.
"A few of us were just finishing high school when this issue was first before the legislature," said state representative Brad Finstad, a Republican from Comfrey who is the chief author of the bill.
State representative Tony Sertich, a Democrat from Chisholm and a co-author of the bill, noted that he was a Senate intern a decade ago when the first proposals for a new ballpark were heard.
"We're still discussing the same issue, and that's long enough without any resolution," Rep. Sertich said. "This is a real quality of life issue for Minnesota. I'm not going to say this is a more important issue than health care or education, but our job as state legislators is to deal with all issues."
Officials from the Twins, Major League Baseball, and ballpark architect HOK detailed some of the plans for the ballpark, which would be open to the sometimes-harsh Minnesota elements, but would feature creature comforts designed to give fans places to stay warm during cool spring and fall weather. The ballpark would have amenities to shield fans from the sun and the wind in the upper deck and would have heated concourses and club areas.
Twins president Dave St. Peter noted that the ballpark would have just 12,000 upper-deck seats -- the smallest number of any current big-league stadium -- and would have 12,000 seats between first and third base, which is double the number of seats in that area of the Metrodome.
Earl Santee, a representative from Kansas City-based HOK, said the plan is for an urban, pedestrian-oriented ballpark that will allow residents of downtown high-rises to see the on-field action during games. HOK, which designed the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, is incorporating some of that building's more popular features -- such as open, spacious concourses -- into its ballpark plan.
Hockey was also mentioned by state representative Neil Peterson, a Republican from Bloomington and a co-author of the ballpark bill. Peterson recalled the early 1990s, when the NHL's Minnesota North Stars came to the city and state looking for $10 million in improvements to their Bloomington arena, the Met Center. After their request for improvements was denied, team owner Norm Green moved the Stars to Dallas, and state and local officials in Minnesota spent hundreds of millions to get a new team.
"I was mayor of Bloomington when the North Stars were looking for some help so they wouldn't have to move," he said. "I didn't do it, and I was wrong. I don't want us to make the same mistake again."
Officials from Hennepin County, who have come under fire from ballpark opponents who say the proposal should be put to a vote via referendum, made it clear that attaching a referendum requirement to the bill would cause insurmountable troubles.
"If it requires a referendum, the ballpark will not be built," said Mike Opat, a Hennepin County Commissioner.
After more than three hours of testimony on Wednesday night, no vote was taken on the bill. State representative Phil Krinkie, the Republican from Lino Lakes who chairs the committee, will hold another hearing at a Bloomington elementary school on Thursday evening where more public testimony from ballpark supporters and opponents will be heard.