By Brian Bakst
May 22, 2002
ST. PAUL (AP) - Minnesota's fight to save the Twins got a big boost Wednesday when Gov. Jesse Ventura approved a financing framework for a $330 million ballpark.
It caps a seven-year effort by the Twins to secure help from the state for an open-air, natural-grass stadium. But the plan has only lukewarm support from the Twins.
"This bill is a huge, huge step, there's no question," said Jim Pohlad, the eldest son of owner Carl Pohlad, who is trying to sell the team. But with the team's ownership up in the air and siting decisions still unresolved, Jim Pohlad said the family isn't ready to celebrate.
Twins officials are unsure they'll be able to find $120 million for a required down payment and get a guarantee from major league baseball that a team will play in Minnesota for at least 30 years.
Nonetheless, they already announced that fans who buy season tickets for the remaining seasons in the Metrodome will get seating priority in the new ballpark. They're also exploring how to add a retractable roof with private money.
A new stadium probably would keep owners from eliminating the low-revenue Twins through contraction. It wouldn't be ready until the 2006 season.
Attention now shifts to the city level. Local leaders who want the Twins in their city must persuade voters to approve higher food and beverage taxes in a referendum.
The final stadium bill resembled a proposal Ventura's administration developed in March. He said the referendum was critical in influencing him to sign the bill.
"Ultimately if the people vote and say yes, fine. That's people's will," Ventura said. He said he doesn't plan to get involved in the local campaigns.
St. Paul is making a play for the team, but the intentions of Minneapolis and surrounding cities aren't clear.
Minneapolis, where local participation was limited by a 1997 referendum, pinned its hopes on a partnership with Hennepin County. The law prevents county involvement, although two or more cities can team up.
A new referendum in Minneapolis would reverse the 1997 vote, but Mayor R.T. Rybak is reluctant to have his city go it alone.
The law allows cities to raise bar, restaurant and lodging taxes by up to 5 percent with the understanding that they would generate at least $12 million a year to repay state-issued debt.
St. Paul would levy 3 percent more on food and beverages purchases, which is currently 7 cents for every dollar spent. In downtown Minneapolis, the hospitality tax on weekends already is 13.5 percent, which is why leaders sought county help for a wider stadium tax.
St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly is seeking an exclusive deal with the Twins before asking voters to approve a tax increase.
The local money and the Twins contribution would be deposited in a new investment account intended to pay off the principal and interest after 30 years. A lot hinges on whether market conditions allow the state to borrow money cheaply and earn a higher return rate on the fund.
If the account lags behind expectations, a ticket tax of up to 5 percent would kick in.
The assumption is that the Twins will seek business community help for their $120 million share. The success of their fund-raising could determine the amount thrown in by Carl Pohlad, an banker who bought the Twins in 1984, or a new owner. No offers for the team have come in since the bill took shape, Jim Pohlad said.
Jim Pohlad doesn't expect to wind up as the owner, despite past comments that he would like to run a franchise.
"We operate as a family," he said. "It's the family decisions that determine what we do as individuals."
Whomever owns the team also would have to pay rent of at least $10 million a year to offset operating and repair costs.
Before any bonds are sold, a panel of top state officials would determine whether baseball is making progress toward an economic structure that puts large- and small-market teams on more even footing.
The Minnesota Vikings get help too, through a new football account that will open $500,000 for predesign of a stadium the team would share with the University of Minnesota.
But Vikings owner Red McCombs said Monday that he was disappointed he didn't make more progress toward a stadium. He said he would consider selling or moving the team.