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Bill would have cities vie for best ballpark plan
Legislation building momentum, despite many political obstacles
by Aron Kahn

Hey baseball fans, where would you like to watch the Minnesota Twins play: a baseball toss from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, or near Target Center in Minneapolis?

A draft of a bill for a new ballpark, gaining some support at the state Capitol on Tuesday, would promote competition between the cities for a new Twins home, relying on a neutral entity to select the winner. The city with the best plan would get the team.

Also Tuesday, a stock offering to help finance a Minneapolis ballpark appeared close to reality. According to a person familiar with the plan, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and several other corporations and wealthy individuals are preparing to buy a total of $25 million worth of stadium stock in hopes that others will buy an equal amount. An announcement is expected within two weeks by New Ballpark Inc., a group of downtown business leaders spearheading the effort.

Under any circumstance, the odds of passing a stadium package at the Capitol this year are long. But stadium legislation is a sport itself in Minnesota, and several legislators appear ready to sign onto a new roster of sponsors.

``It's a steep mountain to climb, but there's something inside of me that says it's potentially the right time to do it,'' said state Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar.

In addition to Johnson, Sens. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and Roy Terwilliger, R-Edina, said they may become sponsors of a stadium bill. In the House, potential sponsors include Reps. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, and Bob Milbert, DFL-South St. Paul.

``My motivation in the case of the Twins is to keep major league baseball in Minnesota. We're a few corporate takeovers away from being a temperate Bismarck,'' said Milbert, referring to mergers that have thinned the landscape of true Minnesota institutions.

Milbert said an open-siting process has the best chance of passage, because it encourages city leaders to put forward their best plan and removes jurisdictional partisanship at the Capitol.

``The cities would come forward with a siting and amenities, and then a commission or some neutral body would decide which offered the best value,'' Milbert said.

If the concept seems familiar, it's because a similar process was used in 1979, when the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission selected Minneapolis over Bloomington for the Metrodome. Commission members hailed from across the state at the time, so there was no geographic bias. Because most members are now appointed by Minneapolis, the commission would not choose a Twins' new address.

The leading Minneapolis site for a ballpark is a surface-parking area a block northwest of Target Center. Besides New Ballpark Inc., the city of Minneapolis or Hennepin County might have to contribute to the effort, although the Minneapolis charter limits city assistance to $10 million.

The leading St. Paul site -- bounded by Seventh Street, Sixth Street and Interstate 35E -- was proposed in 1999 when St. Paul voters defeated a half-cent sales tax to pay for a third of a new ballpark. Mayor Norm Coleman says he'll soon produce a plan without such a tax.

A Twins ballpark in either city -- costing roughly $300 million -- would require least 50 percent funding from the Twins and perhaps other private sources. A no-interest state loan of about $150 million is expected to be part of the plan, and also part of a plan for a stadium for the Minnesota Vikings and University of Minnesota, should that bill be introduced.