Twins clear major hurdle with County

Twins clear major hurdle with Hennepin County

It wasn't always easy, but the Minnesota Twins cleared a major hurdle in their quest for a new outdoor stadium when the Hennepin County commissioners voted to approve all provisions of land acquisition and proposed construction at a special Thursday morning board meeting.

"It's an exciting day for the organization, another huge milestone," said Twins president Dave St. Peter. "We're one step closer, and while we've worked hard to get to this point, this vote memorializes all that we've worked for so far."

A couple of the provisions met with spirited debate among the seven commissioners, and most of the amendments passed by a narrow 4-3 vote. Had those provisions been voted down, it wouldn't have killed the plan.

"No, but some things would have had to be tweaked to get through," said St. Peter. "Some of the measures voted on today include a series of protections for the public. It's a fair document, and it will allow the Twins to be competitive in Minnesota, and to build a world-class outdoor ballpark."

The downtown Minneapolis ballpark, which now can advance to site preparation and construction, with a target date of Opening Day 2010, will be financed by a unique arrangement.

Hennepin County will assess taxes to come up with $260 million in public money, and the Twins will invest $130 million. The Twins later agreed to absorb some potential added costs for infrastructure in and around the stadium when costs threatened to escalate on the proposed site on the western edge of the downtown loop. The Twins have refused to comment on how much more they would be willing to spend, although one commissioner mentioned a Twins cap of "$90 million" in additional expenditures.

Still, teams have spent from 50 percent to 100 percent in numerous other cities that have built new baseball or football stadiums, and three of the commissioners -- vice chairman Gail Dorfman, Linda Koblick and Penny Steele -- remained consistent in voting against the overall measure, even though they said they were in favor of many of the provisions, so the board voted on some of the provisions separately from the whole issue. All measures had the support of board chairman Randy Johnson, and commissioners Mike Opat, Peter McLaughlin and Mark Steiglen, assuring passage, with a simple majority of the seven-member board required.

"The factual things such as the design, and the public infrastructure, and a limit to how much the county can pay are all things I like," said Steele, in explaining her dissent. "But in my opinion, there is too much public money and not enough private money paying for this. I can support the clauses, but having always opposed the financial plan, I can't support it now. I don't think the public should be taxed to support private business, and for me, this is not the role of government."

Koblick said she was voting against all the provisions as well as the whole package for similar reasons. "A lot of details can be pulled out and approved, but when we vote for provisions that have great expenditure, we've made a statement, and those provisions can have legs," she said. "I still won't vote for it, because all this hasn't changed my mind that this is not something for public tax support."

Koblick also made a motion, which did not pass, to alter the wording on the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which says the Twins have the right to approve any replacement as the one County Commissioner appointee.

Koblick said that since the county is coming up with two-thirds of the financing, the public paying the taxes will ultimately own the stadium, the Twins will gain all the revenue in exchange for their investment, and the Ballpark Authority will make decisions under state auspices, Hennepin County will be giving up its thin thread of connection with the clause as worded.

"We would have no control except for our representative on the board," she said, noting that if passed, the Twins would take control over any new county representative.

Dorfman joined Steele and Koblick in praising the commissioners, particularly Mike Opat, who led the way and worked tirelessly on the project, but she, too, said she had to vote against the plan, even as a baseball fan.

"I don't think it's a good deal for the taxpayers of Hennepin County," Dorfman said.

Afterward, Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports, Inc., was asked about the large majority of public funding by various television stations.

"That debate is over," Bell said. "We've been down that road before."

Before the vote, John Wood, senior vice president of Mortenson, assured the commissioners that the contractors can work within the budget, without compromising on any of the stadium features, and Twins officials assured the board that the 30-year lease agreement secures the team in Minneapolis, and that provisions have been made even if the team were to be sold.

"We have a rich history of providing affordable family entertainment, under the ownership of both the Griffith family and Carl Pohlad," said St. Peter. "You have to work hard to pay full price to come to a ballgame at the Metrodome, and that will continue with the new stadium, where we will have twice the seats between first and third."

After all the clauses and proposals had been approved by vote, it brought to mind the previous comment by Opat, the quarterback cited for his dedicated effort to get the proposal organized and through his peers among the commissioners. He said he learned long ago the importance of being able to count to four -- a prophetic statement with the most significant of the measures passing by the 4-3 margin.

"We were bound to have some differences of opinion, and some stressful times, but all in all I think we worked together quite well," Opat said. "And there's a great new era ahead of us."

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