Cautious optimism for park land deal

Cautious optimism for ballpark land deal

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins fans may rightfully be confused as to whether the new ballpark information coming out of both Fort Myers, Fla., and Minneapolis this week is good news or bad news.

This week, an optimistic message from team president Jerry Bell that seemed to indicate a ballpark land deal was imminent, was tempered by comments from Hennepin County officials who urged caution.

With Opening Day 2007 fast approaching, and fans eager to see shovels in the ground and the new ballpark project under way in Minneapolis, "cautious optimism" is the best way to describe the mood inside the team's Metrodome offices.

"Things are looking pretty good," said Twins executive director for public affairs Kevin Smith. "We see this week as another movement in a positive fashion toward getting this done."

His comments come on the heels of a message from Bell that the team was preparing to reveal the ballpark's design to county officials on April 5. Hennepin County's deputy ballpark coordination, Chuck Ballantine, recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that a deal had not been completed, but they were perhaps weeks and not months away from an agreement between the county and the owners of the land where the ballpark will sit.

Smith noted that the team is still hopeful of having a land deal in place for the $500 million project by April 5, which is when it had planned to show final ballpark designs to the Hennepin County board. He acknowledged that they will likely not meet the original plan for a March groundbreaking, but insisted that the ballpark is still expected to be ready for opening day of the 2010 season.

"Any timeline for a construction project always builds in a reasonable time for delays," Smith said. "This delay is definitely cutting into that time, but we certainly feel that we're still overall on track."

The snag in plans came when county officials could not agree on a price for the land on which the ballpark is planned to be built. The 40,000-seat, open-air ballpark is expected to rise on a plot of land a block north of the Target Center in the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis. The project will be funded partially by the team and partially by a sales tax extension within Hennepin County -- which includes Minneapolis, Bloomington and many of the western Minneapolis suburbs.

The great concern about the unexpected high price that landowners are asking stems from the fact that the county is limited to spending $100 million, total, for land and infrastructure. In other words, any more money the county has to spend for the land means less for the roads, bridges and other needs that will have to be covered to make the facility more accessible for fans.

Despite the delay, Smith said the optimism of many fans is warranted, and that if things progress, the excitement of a new season beginning could dovetail with the excitement generated by the much-anticipated ballpark groundbreaking.

"This week's news is an indicator that things are moving forward," Smith said. "Commissioner [Mike] Opat, to his credit, is more cautious. But we think that things are closer to getting done."

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