New Twins stadium becomes a reality

New Twins stadium becomes a reality

St. Paul, Minn. -- It was almost 5 a.m. CT, and the first hints of sunlight were starting to make for the Minnesota State Capitol when a new day dawned for Minnesota Twins baseball. A decade of fans' frustration came to an end in the wee hours of Sunday morning, as both bodies of the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that will mean a new home for the Twins.

The deal between the team and Hennepin County, which calls for a sales tax extension to fund a 42,000-seat open-air facility in downtown Minneapolis, passed the Minnesota House on a bipartisan 71-61 vote late Saturday. After some last-minute deliberations, identical language passed the Minnesota Senate early Sunday morning on a 34-32 vote.

"For all of our fans who have stayed with us, through all of the ups and downs of this debate, we are finally going to build a ballpark," said a tired but elated Jerry Bell, the president of Twins Sports, Inc. "We're again going to have baseball outdoors, on grass, the way the game was meant to be played."

The bill will be delivered to Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in the coming days, when he is expected to sign it into law. The Twins have said the new ballpark, which will be built in the Warehouse District north of Target Center, will be ready for games by the start of the 2010 season.

Most importantly for Twins fans who have dealt with much talk about things like relocation and contraction over the course of the debate, which started in 1996, the bill includes a 30-year iron-clad lease which guarantees the team's future in Minnesota for the next generation of baseball fans.

The total package is for a ballpark which will cost $522 million. Of that amount, $130 million will be paid by the team. Other provisions in the bill call for extra funding to youth sports programs and libraries in Hennepin County.

The bill passed the House on a relatively close vote after more than an hour of debate, with opponents railing about the bill's lack of a referendum, and supporters talking about securing the future of the team for the fans of the region. More than one House member made reference to the hard lessons Minnesotans learned in 1993 when the NHL's Minnesota North Stars, unable to get arena improvements, left the state and moved to Dallas.

On the Senate side, the bill was caught in last-minute negotiations between rural Minnesota legislators and the Governor over $28 million in funding for a new hockey arena in Duluth. After vowing to fund the arena, the project was not included in the final proposal on Saturday.

Before the vote, State Senator Steve Kelley, the Hopkins Democrat who authored the Twins bill, appealed to his colleagues to support the legislation by recalling backyard games of whiffle ball with his six siblings, and riding his bike to Little League games as a child.

"This game is part of what we do in this state, and for that reason, I believe it's time to get this ballpark built," Kelley said. "We do a lot of great things in Minnesota, and one of them should be watching great baseball in a ballpark that's designed for the game."

The move outdoors will be a return to their roots of sorts for the Twins. The team played at open-air Met Stadium from the time they moved to Minnesota in 1961 until 1981. The Twins have played indoors at the Metrodome since 1982, winning the World Series there in 1987 and 1991.