Twins unsure where new ballpark will be built

2/9/2007 - MLB Minnesota Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins have been planning to
publicize detailed designs of their new ballpark next week and
break ground next month.

Now, they're not sure, which is currently the theme surrounding
all parties in this increasingly contentious and complicated
process that now includes uncertainty about when and where the
ballpark will actually be built.

"Understanding the history of this topic in terms of our
decade-long struggle for a ballpark, nobody with the Twins ever
believed this process would be easy," team president Dave St.
Peter said Friday.

Here's the problem: Hennepin County, the club's financial
partner, does not yet own the land on which the 40,000-seat stadium
is supposed to be constructed to open in the spring of 2010. The
state legislation that was passed last May did not spell out a
guideline for agreement on a purchase price.

The owners, a limited liability partnership of more than 100
private investors, are arguing that the county is not cooperating.

The county and the team are arguing that the owners are not

County consumers? They have no choice but to cooperate, because
they began paying an extra 0.15 percent sales tax on New Year's Day
toward the public's contribution to the estimated $522 million
project. The Twins have pledged $130 million.

"Let's just admit that it doesn't work and that we don't have a
relationship and stop calling each other names," said Rich Pogin,
who represents Land Partners II, one of the owners.

On Jan. 22, a Hennepin County District judge ruled that the
stadium served a "public purpose" under the law and authorized
possible condemnation of property on the site.

Because the Legislature capped infrastructure costs at $90
million -- an arbitrary decision, according to the team -- the county
is wary of paying too much for the land and leaving little money
for road, transit and other improvements around the ballpark. After
all it took to reach this point, nobody wants to build the stadium
on the cheap, and the 10-acre site that was chosen just west of
Target Center on the edge of downtown is a tight parcel of land
that brings extra construction and design challenges.

The county appraised the value of the land at $13.35 million,
but project leaders are hesitant to put faith in the eminent domain
process because it could take too long or produce a ruling that the
property is worth more money than the county has available under
the $90 million cap.

"I understand their problem. The legislation doesn't work, and
in the political world of today, people don't get up and say we
made a mistake," Pogin said.

The owners have agreed not to contest the eminent domain
procedure, and they're arguing that because of the county's
spending cap the negotiation process is fundamentally flawed. Pogin
said his group proposed a lease of the land as an alternative, but
that didn't go anywhere.

"If you've got a real limited amount to spend, there really
isn't much to negotiate over," he said.

County commissioner Mike Opat didn't return phone calls Friday,
but he and his colleagues said this week they have begun to
consider other sites. In that case, they'd have to go back to the
Capitol and seek an amendment. Rep. Brad Finstad, R-New Ulm, the
chief House author of bill, told the Star Tribune for an article
published Friday that he would "have a hard time seeing any
appetite for this again."

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud,
said Friday that lawmakers would be open to technical adjustments
in last year's stadium law, but reopening the whole stadium funding
package would be a different question.

"The important thing is we want to stay on schedule," Clark

St. Peter said the team would decide early next week about
whether to proceed with the unveiling of the design. He said the
Twins are still "very hopeful" they'll keep the same site.

"We tend to believe this is part of the process. The county is
frustrated. We're frustrated. It's our hope that realism would set
in with the landowners and we'll be able to move forward," St.
Peter said.

The owners, of course, are saying the same thing about the other