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Legislature passes stadium bill
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
May 19, 2002


After six years of struggle, a Minnesota Twins stadium bill is headed for Gov. Jesse Ventura's desk. The plan calls for a $120 million upfront private contribution towards a $330 million ballpark. But the push to build a ballpark is far from over. Twins officials say serious challenges remain, and west-metro officials say the bill as drafted stacks the deck against a Minneapolis ballpark.

The stadium issue was the focus of MPR's Midday broadcast on May 20, 2002. Listen.

The House approved the Twins bill on a 72-61 vote late on Saturday. That margin would have been unthinkable in 1997 when outraged opponents flooded the Capitol switchboard with calls denouncing stadium plans. But chief House author Harry Mares says the mood has changed since then.

The White Bear Lake Republican says the fate of the Twins now rests with the team and an undesignated host community. "This is the closest, best possible bill we can put out. And it's on the plate. The pitch is coming," Mares said.

The Senate adopted the package shortly afterwards on a 49-18 vote. The plan calls for the Twins to contribute just under 40 percent of the construction costs. The rest would be raised by local taxes in whichever city successfully bids for the park. Those taxes would be subject to a local referendum.

The plan calls for a smaller downpayment than originally envisioned, but supporters say it also requires the team to fund ballpark operations. They say that condition restores balance to the package. But the Twins President Jerry Bell says plenty of challenges remain, and he says the team makes no promises that the effort will ultimately be successful.

"We have a referendum to deal with; we've got ownership issues to deal with; we've got a lot of funds to raise to get the down payment. So there's a long way to go. But this is a very big step," Bell said.

Ventura hasn't said whether he'll accept the plan, although a spokesman says he expects the governor to look favorably on the bill. Ventura says he's concerned that the package excludes counties from bidding on the ballpark site, which is considered a setback by Hennepin County officials who've taken the lead in promoting Minneapolis.

But Ventura says a provision allowing several cities to submit joint proposals is helpful. "Certainly Minneapolis has the ability to step up to the plate on it if they so desire to. And certainly St. Paul will have an opportunity," Ventura said.

But Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak says the city has no plans to move forward without the county as a partner. Rybak says it's risky for a single city to bear the burden of funding the local share of the stadium. He says it's disappointing that the Minneapolis-Hennepin County plan appears scuttled.

"I think it's important for us to recognize that there was a great idea that came forward here, that was a powerful idea. And it was taken off for what I would consider pure politics," according to Rybak.

St. Paul officials say there's no reason to think the two cities can't compete on a free and equal basis. And Mayor Randy Kelly says St. Paul will move quickly to lay out a road map for bringing the team across the Mississippi.

"We will go back, have conversations with the Twins or whoever the owners are, figure out when the best time would be and to have a vote and put that together," he said.

The bill also takes an important step towards building a combined Vikings-University of Minnesota football stadium. It funds a project design study and seeds a footbal stadium fund with a $500,000. A Vikings spokesman says the team will make a hard push for their own facility in the next legislative session.

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