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Board ruling favors Twins in park bid

Board ruling favors Twins in park bid

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins cleared an important hurdle in their quest for a new ballpark on Tuesday when the Hennepin County Board approved a resolution to acquire the eight-acre site in downtown Minneapolis by condemnation procedure.

Twins lead ballpark negotiator Jerry Bell, who has been riding herd on the lengthy pursuit of a new stadium, looked relieved after the meeting.

"We're not there yet," he said. "But this is the highest point we've reached so far. This was a huge step today."

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The board voted 4-2 to amend its previous agreement with the ballclub and deposit $13.35 million for the downtown Minneapolis land near Target Center. That was the amount the county had offered landowners for the property when the agreement was made last year, before the owners claimed this year that the land was worth much more -- a threat that could have upset the delicate balance of the approved funding for the $90 million facility.

The County Board said that it would go ahead under laws of eminent domain to condemn the property and acquire it for fair market value -- the $13.35 million previously agreed to. If the planned "quick-take" maneuver leads to litigation, county board member Mike Opat said, "We'll go to a jury trial if we have to, and if we do, the Twins will be our partner in any litigation. But it's time to break ground, begin construction and put people to work."

While various other expenses and barriers still must be dealt with, it appears that the harmony between the board and the Twins will be a benefit. No further action could be considered until the land was secured, and now that it is arranged, the Twins, almost as an act of celebration, will display the stadium design showing from 12:30 p.m. CT to 6 p.m. on Thursday, on the second floor Skyway Level of the Government Center.

The resolution rescues a jeopardized state law passed in 2006 that called for the county's share of $350 million for construction and infrastructure for a 40,000-seat, outdoor ballpark, with the Twins contributing $130 million. The county was limited to a maximum of $90 million for land acquisition and ballpark infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and walkways, so when the price of the property threatened to escalate, so did concerns for the whole project.

"We tried to negotiate with the landowners, but to no avail," said Opat. "The other side had a lawyer and a PR firm, and their offer was for more than the agreement. We had $13.35 million set aside for the land acquisition, and their new offer was for multiples over that."

The Twins agreed to increase their financial outlay as part of the new arrangement, which will effectively make them partners with the County Board and the newly formed Minnesota Ballpark Authority. Perhaps as important, the Twins will handle negotiations with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, which has tracks crossing the site that will need to be moved.

"Burlington Northern and MnDOT both want to be agreeable," said Bell. "We met with some Burlington Northern officials a couple of weeks ago in Chicago, and they were collaborative; they want to be helpful."

Bell said that the increased financing from the Twins will go toward such infrastructure, such as work on surrounding bridges, grounds and the railroad tracks. One persistent questioner continued to ask Bell how much more the Twins would be willing to spend, and Bell repeated that he wouldn't give a dollar figure. When the questioner persisted, Bell came up with the quote of the day: "I'm not going to elaborate on something I'm not going to talk about."

Among the land issues, Bell explained that historically, a river flowed through that site, so the riverbed is under part of it.

"One end of Target Center needed pilings, for example," he said. "We'll take bids to check on that sort of thing."

Opat said that the board and the Twins want to have the land in hand before the end of April, and when it was determined that the Twins were eager to secure that particular location, he went ahead to investigate the quick-take action.

"It's been very tedious," said Opat. "We've had meetings around the clock, and it's been very, very tedious. The public has done its part, and we had nowhere to go until we got the land. You learn to count to four on the County Board."

That's because there are seven members of the board, so four is the majority necessary. As it was, with one absent, the four votes came through, and vice chairman Gail Dorfman, one of those previously dissenting, explained that she changed her mind because of the way the new resolution was written up.

"While I voted against it, and it became clear that a majority of this board was for it, now, I think this amendment is a positive step, and we should move forward," said Dorfman, who joined Opat, Mark Stenglein and Randy Johnson in favor of the new plan. Linda Koblick and Penny Steele voted against it, and Peter McLaughlin was absent.

Despite the passage of the resolution, the County Board and the Twins can now move on to more specific problems.

"If we don't get things resolved with the railroad, then it's a walkaway," said Opat. "That's really the only thing I can see as a roadblock now. I'm not really sure we're done yet. When I see the bulldozers out there, and Jerry Bell smiling, I'll know we're there."

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

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