Twins stadium bill passed by House

Twins stadium bill passed by House

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It had been quite a while since Jerry Bell and Dave St. Peter were able to smile so much and shake hands so happily as they did early Wednesday evening.

The embrace came moments after the House of Representatives gave its approval to the latest ballpark plan with a 76-55 bipartisan vote following more than seven hours of discussion. Bell, the president of Twins Sports, Inc., said the yes votes were more than he expected.

"We smile like that when we win division championships," said St. Peter, the team president. "This is important on a global level."

The pair and other team officials have spent much of the past decade working on a new home for the Minnesota Twins.

"In the 10 years, we've testified in over 50 committees," Bell said. "I'm not sure there are many other efforts that have had that many committees to deal with."

Sponsored by Rep. Brad Finstad (R-Comfrey), HF2480 now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins) is the sponsor. The Senate Tax Committee is scheduled to hear the bill Thursday.

"We've heard Majority Leader [Dean] Johnson and Minority Leader [Dick] Day say they believe there's enough votes to pass this bill in the Senate," Bell said. "That encourages us."

Under the plan, the team would contribute $130 million towards the $522 million project, and a 0.15 percent increase in the Hennepin County sales tax would fund the remaining $392 million. The open-air ballpark would seat 42,000 fans.

"This is the best opportunity to get this done without using state money," Finstad said.

Still, a trio of amendments nearly derailed the bill.

Rep. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) offered an amendment requiring the team to foot at least 50 percent of the bill. It was defeated, 68-65, as was a Latz amendment requiring a 39 percent team contribution -- equal to the private contribution in a proposed University of Minnesota football stadium.

The team contribution now equals 24.9 percent.

Latz's amendments were two of 24 offered by members. Four were added to the bill.

Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington), who voted against the plan, unsuccessfully offered an amendment to let Hennepin County residents vote on the potential sales tax increase. It failed on a bipartisan 66-64 vote.

With the voting board open for more than three minutes, Bell admitted being a little nervous.

"In 10 years you got to be nervous. I lost my optimism about two years ago," he said. Team and county officials have repeatedly said a referendum would be a deal breaker.

"If this a state asset, then everyone should pay," Lenczewski said, noting that Target Center -- home of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves -- receives $750,000 each year from the state, the proposed University of Minnesota football stadium is to receive $9.4 million in state money annually for 25 years, and county residents have overwhelmingly indicated they should vote on the tax increase.

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville) noted that most of the 34 members who represent Hennepin County were against the proposal.

"If this goes through, we owe the taxpayers of Hennepin County an apology," she said.

An amendment offered by Rep. Ron Erhardt (R-Edina) would have reduced the tax increase and made it statewide. He also proposed the funding raise enough for a roof.

"This way we can continue to call them the Minnesota Twins, not the Hennepin County Twins," Erhardt said.

It went down, 111-19.

One of the amendments to pass, offered by Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis), would require 18 percent of the gross sale price go to the county if the team is sold. The money would be used to pay down the bonds, and once that is complete the dollars would be put into an account for ballpark improvements.

"That was offered by the Twins to prove that we were not just going to flip the team, build a new stadium, get a quick sale and get out," Bell said. "This takes it far beyond what was anticipated."

St. Peter was especially thankful for all the support given by people who have contacted their legislators to encourage the bill's passage.

"I can't help but think about all the fans throughout the region who have labored for the long-term future of the Twins and have worried. We certainly have a long way to go, but today is certainly a sign that hopefully we're on track to resolving those issues."

Standing outside the House Chamber wearing a Twins cap and jersey, Dave Carlson of Apple Valley also knows fans are far from a first pitch outside.

"Now I've got to work on my state senator," said Carlson, who attends about 20 games a year. "My two state representatives voted yes. I came here to make sure they did."

Mike Cook is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.