Twins win one in Legislature
The Minnesota Twins earned the season's first win the night before they officially took the field on opening day. The Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee overwhelmingly approved on a voice vote Monday night a new Twins ballpark...
The Minnesota Twins earned the season's first win the night before they officially took the field on opening day.
The Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee overwhelmingly approved on a voice vote Monday night a new Twins ballpark in downtown Minneapolis, without using direct state funding.
The hearing was this year's first attempt to build a professional baseball stadium. Jerry Bell, president of the Twins' parent company, said it is the first time in 10 years the club has come to the Legislature not seeking state money.
The Twins and a sales tax increase in Hennepin County would fund the stadium, although state and local governments may need to pay for some related roads and other infrastructure.
People across the state want the stadium, especially Minnesota's elderly, Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, said.
"The biggest share of those seniors in nursing homes know every player by their first name," Vickerman said. "I think we owe it to older people."
"You have to do what is good for the state of Minnesota," Vickerman added.
The proposal by Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, authorizes the $444 million project, with the team to contribute at least $125 million. However, Kelley said, the figures do not include an additional $30 million that construction costs have gone up since the bill was written last year.
Representatives of the Twins and Hennepin County, which negotiated a deal last year, said they have not figured out how to fund the added $30 million. Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat promised to have an answer by the time the bill makes its second - and final - Senate committee stop, the Tax Committee.
The Twins - which open the 2006 season today in Toronto - agreed to pay for any cost overruns.
While the Senate committee dealt with the stadium in two hours, a House committee plans to devote two hearings over two days early next week to the proposal.
The ballpark has support from legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but stadiums traditionally have a tough time getting through the Legislature.
A University of Minnesota football stadium appears en route to passage this legislative session; a Vikings professional football stadium is less likely to be heard until next year.
Bell said the Twins bill requires an "iron clad 30-year lease," not allowing the Twins to leave Minnesota. The bill also provides for a community group to have the first option if the team goes up for sale.
The stadium would be a 42,000-seat facility near the Target Center on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. It would not have a roof, something that brought a critical comment from Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls.
Many rural lawmakers say they support the proposal, but would like it better if it had a retractable roof. With a roof, fans from their areas would not face rainouts after long drives to the ballpark.
Bell said rail, bus and highway transportation makes the location ideal.
"There is not a better site in the United States for a ballpark," Bell said.
Stadium opponents said the sales tax - which would add 3 cents to a $20 purchase in Hennepin County - gives Twins' owners public money.
"Any public funding for a stadium is welfare for the wealthy," said Roger Kloster, a Hennepin County resident.
Dan Dobson of the No Stadium Tax Coalition said many stadiums now are being built by private organizations, including a recently completed one in St. Louis. States do not have money to fund stadiums like in the 1990s, he added.
Bruce Pomerant of Fridley warned that whatever legislators do for the Twins will be a precedent when the Vikings' stadium comes up later. He argued against the state being involved in funding.
"I do not see one word about sports in the Constitution," Pomerant said.