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New Twins stadium drive hits Legislature
Associated Press

Two lawmakers presented a ``no new taxes'' baseball stadium plan today that calls for a publicly owned $300 million open-air ballpark for the Minnesota Twins, putting the issue back on the Legislature's agenda this session.

The plan sponsored by Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, and Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, would require economic reform by Major League Baseball for the 42,000-seat stadium to go forward.

``The funds will come largely from initial investment by the Twins and other private sources, loan repayment by the Twins, and a narrowly drawn sales-tax-free zone at the ballpark,'' Johnson said.

The level of public involvement is much less than the Twins would prefer but this might be a plan the public could embrace, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe stressed the need for fundamental reform in the economics of Major League Baseball.

``Minnesota struggles under a tremendous disadvantage because Major League Baseball caters to the mega-market teams,'' Moe said. ``Unless baseball cleans up its act with some kind of genuine revenue-sharing, the deal will be null and void.''

The legislation, which will be heard in a Senate committee Thursday, calls for an impartial three-judge panel to determine if Major League Baseball has accomplished the necessary reforms to benefit smaller-market teams. Johnson has talked in recent weeks of a plan that would have cities compete to be the team's home. A neutral entity would select the winner based on who puts together the best siting and amenities package.

The rationale is that it would take jurisdictional partisanship out of the equation at the Capitol.

But opposition to stadium bills at the Legislature has run much deeper than parochialism. In short, lawmakers have been unwilling to use state money toward a new ballpark.

The Johnson-Mares bill calls for:

  • $150 million initial investment by the Twins and other private sources.
  • $100 million interest-free loan from the state, with full repayment within 20 years guaranteed by team owners.
  • $40 million revenue bond serviced by the Minnesota Wild dedicated loan repayment.
  • $10 million in construction materials would get a sales-tax exemption. The proposal would be the first in the legislative hopper, but it is far from the only idea being floated.

Last week, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman outlined his pitch to lure the Twins to that city with a plan featuring a $125 million city contribution, $150 million from the Twins and another $25 million from private contributors. He also said no public money would be used to fund a stadium in St. Paul unless Major League Baseball makes ``substantial and credible reforms,'' including revenue sharing.

At least two other groups are putting together stadium plans, including the New Ballpark Inc. panel composed of influential Twin Cities businessmen. The group is considering the feasibility of building a privately financed ballpark.

For their part, Twins officials have been meeting with state leaders to discuss a plan that would require a contribution from team owner Carl Pohlad, an interest-free state loan and site preparation and infrastructure from the host city. That, too, would be contingent on changes to baseball's salary structure.