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Plan approved to fund Twins' ballpark

Plan approved to fund Twins' ballpark

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With a simple voice vote by a bipartisan group of House and Senate members on Friday, Minnesota moved a huge step closer to a new ballpark and a secure future for the Twins in the region.

There was just one dissenting vote among the 10 legislators on a House-Senate conference committee that approved a plan to use a sales tax in Hennepin County to fund the new home of the Twins.

The bill is expected to pass the full House and Senate when it is heard on Saturday. Once signed by Minnesota's governor, work can begin on the ballpark, which is expected to be completed in time for the 2010 baseball season.

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Jerry Bell, the president of Twins Sports Inc, has been the team's ballpark point man for a decade now. When the committee adjourned, he admitted feeling a full range of emotions, from relief to exhaustion.

"More joy than anything else," he said. "There is now a very, very good chance that we will finally build a ballpark. This secures our future."

As part of the bill, the team would sign a 30-year binding lease to play in the new facility, which is planned for the Warehouse District, just north of Target Center in downtown Minneapolis.

"Fans will again see baseball played on grass, outdoors, the way it was meant to be," Bell said. "It's been a long, arduous process, but if it ends with this result, it was all worth it."

The final deal provides not only for a ballpark, but for additional revenues to help youth sports and libraries in Hennepin County. The bill calls for a .15 percent sales tax extension in the county, which means consumers will pay an additional three cents on every $20 they spend.

While language that would allow a similar sales tax for a Minnesota Vikings stadium in Anoka County was taken out of the bill, the NFL team got some language included that it hope will expedite the process by which it can get a stadium deal approved as early as next year.

"This was a great bipartisan effort," said state Rep. Brad Finstad, who authored the House version of the bill. "We're going to have a great ballpark and remain a Major League state, and that's priceless."

Included in the bill is a fiscal escalator that will provide additional dollars for upkeep and improvements to the ballpark over the 30-year course of the financing plan. In a provision approved late in the process, excess revenues will go to fund youth sports programs and libraries in the county. Supporters note this may mean as many as 3,000 additional hours that suburban libraries are open each year.

On the Senate side, there was some disappointment that its global plan for a Twins ballpark, a Vikings stadium and money for transit was significantly pared down, but acknowledgement that progress was made on those fronts as well.

"We take away the recognition that a lot of people thought ours was the best solution," said state Sen. Steve Kelley, the Senate author of the Twins bill. "As a long-time supporter of getting this problem solved, I'm glad we're taking this step forward. I'll take the partial victory of getting the ballpark behind us, and I'll continue to be an advocate for finding solutions to our transit needs and the football stadium question."

The state legislature is required by the Minnesota constitution to adjourn on Monday, meaning that the bill will be heard on Saturday, which is its last full day of legislative business.

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