In the latest round of developments in the ongoing disagreement between Hennepin County officials and the group of property owners, an independent mediator will study the case and issue a non-binding decision.
"There won't be a trial if the mediation works," said Aron Kahn, a spokesman for Land Partners II, the group of individuals that owned the land prior to the county's takeover in May.
According to Kahn, the land owners have not listed a specific dollar amount that they are seeking. Last month, they sought $33.18 million for the parcel, which was assessed to be worth just over $13 million by the county. Commissioner Mike Opat, who has been the driving force behind the county's involvement in the Twins project, said that with attorney fees and other items added to the cost of a settlement, the landowners are seeking more than $40 million, and the county won't go that high.
"The land owners' story keeps changing, and ours stays the same," said Opat. "We're willing to pay fair market value."
What constitutes fair market value in this case will be determined by the mediator, who will study the situation and issue a decision by Oct. 1.
"The land owners are hoping for a realistic way of solving this," said Kahn. "They're seeking a fair settlement just like any land owner whose property has been taken by the government."
Last month, an independent three-person panel issued an opinion saying that the land was worth $23.8 million. But the panelists disagreed, leading one member of the panel to issue a separate minority opinion that the land was worth $33.18 million. Earlier this month, the county upped its offer from $13 million to $19.3 million. Opat said the county still feels that $23.8 million is too much to pay for the parcel, which sits north of Target Center, in the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis.
Although the mediator has not been named, Kahn told MLB.com that it will either be former federal magistrate Brian Short or Rick Solum, a former district court judge. Once the mediator issues a decision, the land owners can either agree to the determined price, or appeal and have the case go to a trial, which would begin in November. Opat said he remains hopeful for a settlement sooner rather than later, but made it clear that his level of patience and trust is on the decline.
"I've been through some mediations," he said. "When the other side is reasonable and forthright, I'm confident. I'd like to be confident in this case, but I'm not going to hold my breath."
With the formal groundbreaking out of the way, construction has begun in earnest on the open-air ballpark, which is scheduled to open prior to the start of the 2010 baseball season.
"The Twins organization is well aware of the process that can take place before the land acquisition of the new ballpark site can be finalized," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. "As Hennepin County works through that process, the Twins continue to focus on refining the design of the new facility as construction moves ahead."
Jess Myers is a contributer to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.