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April 15, 2005

A step in the right direction

Well, well, well ... finally we have some positive news regarding a new Twins stadium (unless you were hoping for a stadium in St. Paul. Jim?). Today the Pioneer Press is reporting that the Twins are cutting a deal with Hennepin County to build a stadium in Minneapolis at the Rapid Park site. Wonderful, wonderful news, but as my brother-in-law has already stated, this is but the first step in a bazillion step process. Let's focus on the positive first, though.

The deal would depart from a nine-year stadium strategy of trying to pass a no-site bill and would kick-start a rejuvenated ballpark pitch by giving lawmakers something to visualize as well as specifics on construction and financing.

Let's see ... let's say I try something and it doesn't work. I may try it again, and maybe again for a third time. But after the third time I would be a complete dunderhead to try something I know won't work. Finally, after 9 freaking years the Twins have removed their collective heads from their collective butts and decided to focus on a single site. Hallelujah!

And is anyone surprised with this development? After the Twins broke of talks with St. Paul in 2002 it seemed like to me that they just didn't want to do a deal in St. Paul. Now I think we have verification of that.

Minneapolis and its financial benefactor, Hennepin County, have battled St. Paul in recent years to be the location of a new stadium. That's one reason the Twins stadium bills in the past did not specify a site, on the theory that votes would come from legislators from both cities, giving the contentious bill the slim majority it would need.

I don't believe that. I think the Twins have always been looking for the best deal and by pitting the two communities against each other they felt they could minimize their contribution. Again, after nine years I'm glad to see they have finally decided to abandon this strategy.

Although the politics of stadium legislation are always difficult, House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said passage of a Twins bill would be possible this session if legislators first agree on ways of solving state budget, education and health-care funding problems.

OK, now that is a little bit of a reality check. Solving the state budget, education, and health-care funding problems will be close to impossible. I'm sorry to be so pessimistic again, but we still live in Minnesota, and we still have the biggest bunch of stiffs and nit-pickers sitting in the Capitol this state has ever seen. Do I think this means that a Twins bill won't be argued in the hallowed halls of the legislature this year? No. I think we will see a bill and I think it will get through some committees. However, I am of the opinion that the legislature may run out of time. Keep May 23rd marked on your calendar. That is doomsday for Twins fans.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat of Robbinsdale confirmed intensified talks with the Twins but would say merely, "The only way Hennepin County will get involved in a Twins stadium again is with the Twins as a partner for a site-specific bill.''

Bell demurred on describing the intricacies of the negotiations. However, three people close to the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity said a major sticking point is how much money the Twins would contribute to the ballpark, which might have a retractable roof and cost up to $500 million.

Mike Opat ... man I love that guy. Robbinsdale is one lucky community. I'm going to write him again this morning and see if he would give me any specifics. I'm especially interested in specifics on the Twins upfront contribution. And I'm not even really concerned with an exact number. My question is, will the Twins finally offer more than $120 million? Since the negotiations for the upfront contribution were "a major sticking point" I think it is safe to assume Hennepin County wanted more. It sounds like we may find out next week.

So, step 1) pick a site, step 2) raise the upfront contribution ... I am just thrilled that the Twins are finally changing their strategy. But what are the other steps? In a quote above, the article states that this new bill will give "lawmakers something to visualize as well as specifics on construction and financing." Step 3 is to unveil those specifics and start selling them hard. I'm pretty sure the specifics will include TIF financing and some kind of Hennepin County wide sales tax, the latter of which will be a really tough sell in the legislature. I mean, really, really tough.

Step 4 will be to try to convince the legislature to pass the bill without a referendum attached, and that will be another really, really tough sell. Step 5, in my mind, is to focus lobbying efforts on out-state representatives. I truly believe that if this bill is to pass the Twins and Hennepin County need to convince out-state representatives that 1) their constituents want this to happen (which they do) and 2) they have nothing to lose by voting for this bill. Which they don't. Out-state won't be taxed so I would think they could vote for the bill without reservation. Step 6 is to lobby Hennepin County legislators. It is a sad fact that some of the biggest opposition to this bill will come from the county that will benefit the most from it. If the Twins and Hennepin County can get half of the legislators from the county on board then I think it will be a done deal. Step 7 will be to create a media blitz to convince Hennepin County residents to approve the referendum that is sure to be attached. If by the grace of God the referendum is somehow approved, then and only then will I breath a sigh of relief. Because that will mean a ballpark will be built.

The article ended with this paragraph:

If a bill were passed this session, it likely would speed up construction by a year, making Opening Day possible in 2008 or 2009. The last game outdoors was played against the Kansas City Royals at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington in the fall of 1981, after which the team began playing at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

The thought of a new stadium for opening day 2008 is almost too overwhelming. That thought will keep me going the rest of the day.

And what about the Vikings stadium? The StarTribune reports some really good news on that front today:

According to those at the Blaine meeting Thursday morning, Wilf said that he and partners David Mandelbaum and Alan Landis are investigating buying some of the land on which the proposed Vikings stadium would sit, near 109th Av. NE., just west of Interstate Hwy. 35W.

This is fantastic news because it shows Fowler's group (or is it Wilf's group now?) are committed to Minnesota, they are fousing on the Anoka County site, and they may even take a leap of faith and buy the land before any financing plan is in place. This also suggests, at least to me, that Wilf is concerned that the land could be earmarked for some other development and that he is buying the land to assure that it is used for a Vikings stadium. Good, good news. The plan for a new Vikings stadium in Anoka County is alive and well.

The article also suggests though that the Vikings have almost no shot of getting anything done in the legislature this year:

Sviggum told his visitors that a Vikings stadium is not on his agenda this session. He noted that the team's lease at the Metrodome runs through 2011 and, he said, he told the men: "You'd better work out the ownership. You better work out a [stadium] finance plan."

Indeed. If the Twins are successful this year (please oh please) I'm sure it will inform what kind of shape next year's Viking bill will take. However, I was a little upset to read this statement from Dean Johnson:

Johnson said they seemed amenable to contributing at least one-third of the cost of any Vikings stadium.

Oh really? Wow, that is big of them. Just like the Twins, though, if Fowler's group wants to get anything done they had better be prepared to bump up their contribution. The fact of the matter is, 1/3 from the team and 1/3 from the host community simply won't work in this case because there just isn't 1/3 from the state to top it off. There simply is no money that the state can contribute. TIF will work great for the Twins, in my opinion, but it has already been shown that the TIF value of a new Vikings stadium will be minimal. Anybody who buys the Vikings had better be ready to come up with more than 1/3. That is just the way it is.

That's all I got time for. As always, I welcome your comments and opinions on both of these matters. Exciting news, but we still have a long way to go.

Posted by snackeru at April 15, 2005 8:34 AM | Stadiums


Fight on brave Shane Quixote! Destroy the stadium windmills!

Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at April 15, 2005 11:28 AM

If a Twins ballpark goes through and is built, it will be 1982 all over again. Minnesota will have a "state of the art" stadium stuck in a crappy location.

Posted by: Jim in St. Paul at April 15, 2005 2:22 PM

Lucy wants to know where the cats are.

Posted by: SBG at April 16, 2005 11:31 AM

At least this time it would be a baseball stadium.

Posted by: Chuck T at April 17, 2005 12:15 AM

Then there is the news from the parallel universe that the Yankees are close to a deal to build a new/replacement facility right next to Yankee Stadium. The team would pick up most of the cost of the $800 million dollar stadium, with the city kicking in $300 million in infrastructure improvements. Over a billion dollars to reduce the seating capacity to 50,000! Does that encourage the Pohlads to chip in your required $120 mill?

Posted by: oldstuffer at April 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Oldstuffer, I sure hope the Pohlads are paying attention to all of this. Florida, St. Louis, San Fran, New York (Giants and Yankees), Dallas (Cowboys) ... all are paying substantially more than 1/3. It is the way to get things done now. They might not like it, but it is the way it is.

Posted by: Shane at April 19, 2005 3:38 PM

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