Downtown stadium deal may be near

Twins reportedly near deal for downtown stadium

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After a long day Wednesday that saw a Minnesota joint House-Senate committee near agreement on a proposal to build a $522 million stadium for the Minnesota Twins in downtown Minneapolis, the proposal is still just that after the committee met for a few hours on Thursday.

While there was continued progress made on finalizing the deal, the committee will meet again on Friday morning in hopes of closing the remaining gaps.

"We wish it was over, but we're getting closer," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports, Inc., and the team's ballpark point man for the past decade. "We're to the point now where we're talking about language details and not substantive changes."

The last offer presented by Senate negotiators on Thursday called for a Hennepin County-wide sales tax increase of a fifteenth of one percent (three cents on $20 or fifteen cents for every $100) -- excluding groceries, clothing or medical costs -- without a county-wide referendum. That, added to the Twins' $125 million cash contribution, would fund a 42,000-seat open-air ballpark.

The package presented by Senator Steve Kelley, the Democrat from Hopkins who's carrying the ballpark bill in the Senate, also included a one-half cent metro-wide sales tax that would be used to fund transit infrastructure.

"We are going to build a Twins ballpark in Minneapolis," Kelley told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Thursday.

It is widely expected that the transit language Kelley included will be moved from the ballpark bill and sent to the committee that covers transportation issues on Friday. That would leave a relatively clean ballpark bill that the Twins feel would get a facility built and open in time for the 2010 baseball season.

Team officials are optimistic that a final bill will be approved on Friday so it can be sent to the full House and Senate chambers for a final vote. If approved there, it would go to the governor for a signature.

"Our plan is fairly simple. It's easy to understand. And it builds a ballpark," Bell told the Star-Tribune.

A separate proposal calling for a metro-wide sales tax to fund construction of new stadiums for the Twins and for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League appeared to be losing momentum as legislators focused on the Twins-backed plan, according to the paper.

Last month, the Twins and Hennepin County revealed plans to construct a new Twins ballpark development in the historic warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis, located at the Rapid Park site behind the Target Center.

The commitment from the Twins comes from $40 million in cash upfront and an additional $85 million paid prior to completion of the new ballpark facility.

In addition, the plan, which requires no state funding, calls for the Twins to assume all operation and maintenance costs, as well as any cost overruns on the ballpark. The Twins must also commit to a 30-year, no-escape lease agreement. Additionally, should the Twins be sold prior to 2016, the public will share in the proceeds of the sale.

Located in the heart of Minneapolis' warehouse and business districts, the Rapid Park site would make the new ballpark one the most accessible venues in America. Minnesota's new ballpark would represent the convergence point for the Hiawatha Light Rail line, the proposed Northstar Commuter Rail and the Interstate 394/94 exits into downtown Minneapolis. Already existing parking facilities provide for parking needs. Additionally, land adjacent the ballpark site will be developed for future mixed uses.