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Contraction retraction?
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
December 11, 2001
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Major League Baseball and its players' union are reportedly close to reaching an agreement that delays contraction for a year. If the deal goes through, the Twins will play baseball next season, but could still face elimination at the end of the 2002 baseball season. Some state lawmakers and other stadium activists say the delay gives them time to save the team, but acknowledge a stadium financing plan would have to be put together quickly.

While a deal between Major League Baseball and the players would preserve the Twins for another season, it would also make it easier for baseball to fold teams a year from now.

The biggest obstacles to contraction now are the union's objections and a court injunction that would force the Twins to play next year in the Metrodome.

An agreement with the union would presumably come with a promise not to challenge contraction in the future. And the Twins' Dome lease only runs another year, so the injunction would become moot.

The Twins have not been named by Major League Baseball as a contraction candidate, but Twins owner Carl Pohlad acknowledged last week the Twins and Montreal Expos were likely candidates.

Many Twins supporters believe the Twins could get off that short list if the Legislature were to approve a ballpark financing plan.

"I think it buys us some time," suggested DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, a stadium supporter.

Moe, Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum and Gov. Ventura all seemed optimistic about the Twins after they left a state budget meeting. Still, stadium financing remains a tough sell. Both Sviggum and Ventura have been reluctant to use taxpayer dollars to build professional sports stadiums.

"My first priority is not a baseball stadium right now. My first priority is getting a structurally balanced state budget over the next four years."

- Gov. Ventura

A tri-partisan task force to study stadium issues started work last month and will submit proposals in January.

Sviggum says he'll rely on the task force to come up with the details on potential stadium solutions, but he says the state's projected $2 billion shortfall will be in the back of every lawmaker's mind when they consider stadium-related bills.

"We'll wait for the recommendations. Obviously with a budget deficit like this, no one is talking about taking money out of tax coffers to fund baseball stadiums. That would be a very difficult thing to do to, (saying) we're going to find $200 million out of the tax coffers for a baseball stadium at a time when we could be pulling back money from other comittments," Sviggum said.

A Twins spokesman said the team remained at a standstill as they waited for the union and league to determine their fate. He said the team would have more to say if a deal is reached. Major League Baseball officials could not be reached for a comment.

Gov. Ventura says a possible delay would help state lawmakers and private business owners, if they wanted to build a stadium. He wouldn't say if he was more willing to get a stadium deal done.

"My main objective was to keep the Twins and to buy us some time, and if we achieved that goal, then we'll cross other bridges as we come to them. But my first priority is not a baseball stadium right now. My first priority is getting a structurally balanced state budget over the next four years," Ventura said.

However St. Paul Mayor-elect Randy Kelly says he's optimistic his city could secure a stadium financing plan. He and outgoing mayor Norm Coleman have proposed a 3 percent city-wide food and beverage tax and game-day parking fees to fund half of a new ballpark. He says the Twins and other private businesses would have to put up the other half.

"Obviously, I - as mayor of St. Paul - am going to be as aggressive as I can to bring forward St. Paul as the possible new home for the Twins and I think we have a good shot at doing that," Kelly said.

Kelly says the Legislature and Ventura would need to OK a city-wide tax increase and use the state's bonding capacity to secure the loan. If a deal to delay contraction is not reached between the league and union, an arbitrator will resume hearings on the union's grievance to stop contraction.

More Information
  • Stadium task force