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Rybak tries to build support as Twins privately talk
by Tony Kennedy

A baseball park in the Minneapolis Warehouse District would provide powerful leverage for redevelopment just beyond the district's boundary, Mayor R.T. Rybak told the Hennepin County Board on Thursday.

His pitch to build support for keeping the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis was made while team officials were focused on private talks with state officials. The talks were aimed at exploring financing options to meet a growing demand at the Capitol for a 50-50, public-private deal to build a $330 million stadium.

Progress stalled this week in the House-Senate stadium conference committee, which didn't meet. Instead, the Twins met privately Monday with conferees and later this week with state Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock, Twins President Jerry Bell said.

The private talks have been aimed at overcoming language in the House bill that requires the Twins to make a $165 million down payment.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, cochairman of the conference committee, said Thursday in an interview that the emphasis has been taken away from a lump-sum financing plan. The Legislature could grant flexibility as long as $165 million is assured from private sources in some fashion, he said. The other half of the stadium's cost would be funded by an increase in local sales taxes in the new stadium's host community, but only if approved by voter referendum.

"We could pass a bill like that," Johnson said.

The Twins' Bell said Thursday he will continue discussions with Wheelock. If the conference committee meets next week, Bell said he expects to present a financing plan.

A lot of people "are thinking right now how to make it work," Bell said.

St. Paul and Brooklyn Park are the other two municipalities vying to land the new stadium.

County Board Chairman Mike Opat introduced Rybak by acknowledging the uncertainty of the overall stadium debate.

"This is all if the team is around and the team continues to exist as we know it," Opat said.

Rybak said the city has no specific stadium-related projects on the drawing board. But two sizable triangles of real estate now dominated by nondescript commercial buildings could give way to a mix of housing, retail, office and industrial space if a new ballpark goes up between Target Center and the Hennepin County garbage incinerator.

The city's 10-to 30-year vision, Rybak said, is for development to flow from the edge of downtown, where the ballpark would sit, into a mixed-income housing project already going up on the city's Near North Side.

"This is one of the best opportunities we see of expanding the tax base of Hennepin County," Rybak said.

The mayor was particularly enthused about a large wedge of land that includes the Minneapolis Farmers Market, which could be expanded and surrounded with housing. Within that area, the city already owns some property, Rybak said.

Russ Adams, director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, an environmental and social-justice organization in Minneapolis, said the very idea of building a new ballpark is debatable. But if one is going to be built, he said, it should be located intelligently "so that it builds community."

The Metrodome never delivered on a similar promise of spinoff development.

Adams said it would be a huge missed opportunity if development extending the Warehouse District didn't include some public housing and moderate-income housing.