Twins hit bump in ballpark planning

Twins hit bump in ballpark planning

MINNEAPOLIS -- Just getting a new ballpark approved to be built was a long and arduous process for the Twins, so it's no surprise that there continue to be obstacles now that planning is underway.

The most recent sticking point is a dispute over the value of the land the ballpark is to be built upon. There appears to be a sizeable price gap between the numbers coming from Hennepin County and the property's primary owners, Land Partners II, a limited liability partnership with more than a hundred investors. State legislation that was passed last May for the $522 million project left the duty of acquiring the land up to the county.

"This has been a long, challenging journey and there are obviously going to be ongoing issues that we'll need to deal with," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. "But I just know this -- the county, the team and the landowners have a great deal at stake here. There is no question that that land is of great value when there is a baseball stadium built there, but I think it's of questionable value if there is no ballpark there."

Richard Pogin, chief financial officer of Investment Management Inc., which represents the property owners, told the Star Tribune last Friday that the county has budgeted a maximum of $13.5 million to buy the site, which Pogin said is far below its fair market value. Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat would not discuss specific numbers that have been offered, although county records list the property's assessed value at $8.37 million.

"We're still trying to negotiate so we're not going to share any numbers, but we will share some numbers in the next few weeks or so," Opat said. "We're attempting to negotiate with the landowners and it's proving to be more difficult than I had imagined."

The county is limited in how much it can spend on the land due to the fact that the total infrastructure budget for the project, which includes property acquisition, is capped by law at $90 million. That means that if the county has to spend more money for the land than is allotted, other areas -- such as road construction and bridge work on the site -- will in turn have fewer funds.

All of these negotiations are on a deadline due to the impending construction work that must be done, but negotiations could get a little help in the near future. The county moved to condemn the land in November while continuing negotiations with the owners. The first condemnation hearing is scheduled for Jan. 22.

But while the majority of the property to be used by the ballpark is owned by Land Partners II, there are also minor parcels controlled by the city of Minneapolis, Burlington Northern Railroad and the state Department of Transportation. Opat said that negotiations with all of those entities were on schedule.

"Those are all going along very well," Opat said.

Work is scheduled to begin on the site in two months, but there is increasing concern about the timetable due to the delay in the negotiations to secure purchase of the land.

The work on the site in March would just entail clearing of the land, with construction not officially starting until August. But under the timetable released by project officials, the early work is important to keeping the ballpark on track to open in April 2010. And that is why the delay in the negotiations is a concern for all those involved in the project.

"Nobody ever said it was going to be easy and I think fans, like a lot of us that work for the team, are going to be concerned until we actually throw that first pitch in April of 2010," St. Peter said. "It's clear that everyone involved -- the county, the baseball team and the landowners -- have quite a bit to lose on this deal if it doesn't get done. Because of the common interest in making a deal, I'm optimistic that eventually a deal will be reached and we'll be able to move forward to build a ballpark."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.