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Legislators propose Twins stadium plan
by Robert Whereatt

A group of legislators launched a major effort Monday to acquire funding for a $300 million open-air stadium for the Minnesota Twins, adding a high-profile issue to a legislative session that is more than half over.

The proposal calls for Twins owner Carl Pohlad and private sources to ante up $150 million.

An additional $100 million would come from an interest-free loan, which the Twins would guarantee. The money for the loan would come from the excess reserves in an injured-workers insurance pool -- the Workers' Compensation Assigned Risk Plan.

An additional $40 million would come from repayment of the interest-free loan that the state approved two years ago for construction of the Minnesota Wild's arena in St. Paul. The final $10 million would come from a sales tax exemption on construction materials.

"The public said to us that they don't want their tax dollars going to a stadium.... And they said no general [treasury] funds. We think this proposal meets that test," Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said at a news conference to announce the bill, which was introduced Monday in the Senate. The Twins, said Moe, "are an asset worthy to be retained by this state."

Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, chief House sponsor of the legislation, said the entire funding package is conditioned on Major League Baseball agreeing to certain reforms. The central one is a revenue-sharing plan in which the poorer teams would split major pots of revenue, including local television dollars.

The bill does not designate a site for the stadium. Instead, it creates a nine-member panel to be appointed by Gov. Jesse Ventura that would accept bids from cities in the seven-county metropolitan area.

Steven Novak, a consultant for the Twins, said the estimated local cost for land and infrastructure preparation would be $50 million. Novak, a former DFL state senator, said he expects that Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington and Richfield would compete for the stadium.

If the bill becomes law, and the reforms are enacted by Major League Baseball, construction could begin as soon as the summer of 2002, Novak said.

Neither Pohlad nor Twins President Jerry Bell was at the news conference, although several lobbyists hired by the Twins were in attendance.

In a telephone interview, Bell said the team backs the bill. "There's a lot of challenges in that legislation.... I think I've met with about 80 legislators now," he said.

Bell declined to say how the $150 million contribution would break out between owner Pohlad and private contributors. But he said he doubts the Twins' share would be less than $100 million.

In 1997, the Twins made a major push for a stadium. It dominated all other issues during the legislative session, but no bill passed. Then-Gov. Arne Carlson called a special session to consider stadium legislation, but once again the idea lacked legislative support. The public generally opposed almost every plan and actually jammed the legislative telephone system with an avalanche of calls.

Moe, aware of how the stadium issue consumed the 1997 session, said that will not happen this year. "This is an important issue, but everything else is as important or more so."