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Twins' ballpark bid strikes out at Capitol
by Aron Kahn

Playing from behind the entire session, the Minnesota Twins finally lost their legislative campaign Wednesday for a $300 million outdoor ballpark.

Now, if anyone wants to play ball with the Twins on a stadium strategy, it will have to be St. Paul or Minneapolis, along with a roster of Twins supporters with very deep pockets.

The final out at the Legislature came in the House Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs Committee, where a bill that would have provided half the financing for the ballpark was tabled on a 12-6 vote, causing it to miss a critical deadline.

``Yes, it's dead,'' said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon. ``I don't know how it would be revived.'' Though the Legislature has a history of reviving moribund bills at the 11th hour, most supporters said they won't try to overcome the opposition, which was intense in the House. The bill had passed a Senate committee, but its sponsor, Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said he'll let it reside in its current home, the Tax Committee, until next session.

The House committee tabled the bill on a motion from Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, a strong opponent of publicly assisted stadiums. The sponsor, Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, could have sought reconsideration later but refrained because the votes weren't there to pass it.

A frustrated Mares said late Wednesday he's mulling a maneuver that would redirect the matter to another committee, so legislators could at least have a full discussion.

Jerry Bell, the Twins president, said the bill's details were never earnestly considered by many lawmakers, who were influenced by the emotional nature of the issue, stemming back several years.

``The subject was the stadium - everything after that didn't matter,'' Bell said. Using an Easter metaphor, Bell repeated a New Testament passage from Jesus on the cross: ``Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.''

Those who recently testified for the bill said it was a better deal than almost anywhere in the nation. In the 18 new or renovated ballparks, the average private contribution was 37 percent, they said. In markets like the Twin Cities, it was 24 percent.

The Twins bill required the team and other private sources to provide 50 percent, or $150 million in cash. The state would have had to provide a $140 million interest-free loan, plus $10 million is sales tax breaks on construction equipment, under the House bill.

Supporters argued the Twins were on the hook for $290 million of the $300 million pricetag, because they had to guarantee the loan repayment.

But legislators listened carefully to opponents. Tom Goldstein, publisher of Elysian Fields, a literary journal focusing on baseball, said Wednesday it was the ``ultimate irony'' that the Legislature was considering giving an interest-free loan to the ``wealthiest banker in Minnesota.'' He referred to Twins owner Carl Pohlad.

The value of that loan is $57 million, when considering interest lost to the state, University of St. Thomas professor David Vang determined Wednesday, at the request of the Pioneer Press.

The issue may be studied between legislative sessions, while baseball deals with its economic problems. Meanwhile, Erich Mische, director of RiverCentre in St. Paul, said Mayor Norm Coleman might continue his effort to build a Twins ballpark. Similar efforts are under way in Minneapolis in both public and private sectors.