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In report, citizens back privately funded ballpark
by Rochelle Olson

A citizens' panel commissioned to examine the future of professional baseball in Minnesota has added its voice to the stadium debate, advising the Minnesota Twins to pursue a smaller-scale, open-air ballpark built primarily with private funds.

"We believe that continued attempts by the Twins to secure public financing for an outdoor ballpark will further alienate an already frustrated citizenry, and in the long run prove to be counterproductive and divisive," said the 13-page draft report, obtained by the Star Tribune on Tuesday and expected to be formally released to the Minneapolis City Council next week.

The report was put together by a 17-member panel appointed by city leaders to explore the option of building a Twins stadium primarily with private money. The report was intended to advise city leaders in their dealings with New Ballpark Inc., a small group of business leaders, led by Wells Fargo executive Jim Campbell, who are exploring private financing to build a new Twins stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

A separate citizens' report, from a group impaneled by the team, suggested a public/private partnership be forged to build a stadium, including requiring that Twins owner Carl Pohlad pay about half the cost of a $300 million stadium.

What comes next remains unclear. Twins President Jerry Bell said he has been told that any stadium bill for the 2001 legislative session must be ready by early March, although he isn't sure the team will submit a proposal.

"We have to have support. I think at this stage, the best thing to do is test the water at the Legislature and in the community," Bell said.

But the answer is already clear to Betsy Hodges, who heads the city-appointed panel and who wrote the latest report.

"You need to start with the thinking, 'How are we going to get this done privately?'" Hodges said.

The report doesn't suggest a minimum donation from Pohlad, but Hodges said there's an outside chance an amount could be added before the report is presented.

In addition to insisting on private financing, the latest report makes three main recommendations:

  • The Twins should focus on a smaller ballpark to lower construction costs.
  • The Twins must take a leadership role within the Twin Cities area, building relationships with large companies and organizations likely to invest in a ballpark.
  • Major League Baseball must change the way it does business by instituting greater revenue sharing between large-and small-market teams.

Bell said he hadn't seen the latest report and declined to comment on it but said he continues to be optimistic.

Mark Oyaas, a public-affairs consultant and leader in the New Ballpark effort, said the next step is to test support for the proposal among Minneapolis city government leaders. "It's fairly evident we need all the resources they can provide within the referendum constraint because every nickel is going to count," Oyaas said.

In 1997, Minneapolis voters prohibited the city from spending more than $10 million for a sports facility without specific voter approval.

Council Member Paul Ostrow said he thinks the report will be received favorably but acknowledges that hard work lies ahead. "I choose to believe that the will is there," he said. "This is a question of responsibly facing up to what is an important issue to the community."

Oyaas, however, noted private financing could be used either in Minneapolis or elsewhere. The panel's report didn't select a site for the ballpark, and St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman is actively working on a deal to build a ballpark near the new Xcel Energy Center arena. It too would be financed mainly through private money and user fees. His effort has been noticed in Minneapolis.

"The business community thinks there's some real possibility to keep the Twins in Minneapolis, and you want to show as much momentum as possible because you have other people wanting to move the Twins to St. Paul," said Colleen Moriarty, chief of staff for Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.

Coleman said, "We haven't worked out the economics, but we're trying to get to the point where we would only be looking to the state for bonding authority."

Minnesota House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, repeatedly has said the Twins have little shot at receiving a stadium subsidy in the 2001 session. "Having it done with private money is still the best way to go," he said.

Regardless of what the Twins do, Minnesota Vikings consultant Lester Begley said the football team intends to submit a bill for a new stadium. Like the Twins, the Vikings say the Metrodome doesn't generate enough revenue for the team to have a competitive payroll.