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Twins stadium efforts switch venues
Proposals still are alive in St. Paul, Minneapolis
by Gordon Wittenmyer, Virginia Rybin and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

If the past eight years have taught the Twins anything, it's how to handle a loss.

In baseball and politics.

That's why the state Legislature's defeat in committee of the team's latest stadium proposal hasn't killed the current efforts altogether.

Civic and business leaders in Minneapolis and St. Paul said Thursday their separate efforts to get a new stadium built for the Twins will continue despite Wednesday's 12-6 vote to table a stadium measure in the Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs committee.

The Twins were less upbeat in the wake of the vote, which effectively killed that $300 million proposed project in the state House, but unlike past defeats this one wasn't followed by franchise death knells or threats. And officials say they're taking solace in the team's quick start on the field.

``I don't know where we go from here,'' team President Jerry Bell said. ``The only answer is we haven't made any decisions.

``We'll take the Easter weekend to think about it and go from there. It's day to day. That's the way it's been for a long time.''

Bell said he talked with baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday. ``He was surprised,'' Bell said. ``He was surprised it couldn't even get debated.''

It's unclear whether Major League Baseball will view the state's continued refusal to consider a stadium proposal as another sign of the market's inability to support a team.

But for now, the Twins say the decision hasn't changed how they plan to operate.

``Internally, in the front office, I think folks here have become accustomed, unfortunately, to legislative and/or referendum defeats over the last few years we've been working toward a ballpark,'' said Dave St. Peter, Twins senior vice president for business affairs. ``And they have understood this is a steep climb. Consequently, a lot of people around here are resilient.

``The focus internally, with most of the front office, isn't the defeat (Wednesday), but how we're going to get people in the seats to face the White Sox this weekend.''

Meanwhile, stadium efforts are pushing forward in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman said Thursday the city continues to work on a proposal that might be presented to voters in November. But he indicated the effort needs more attention from key ballpark supporters, including the Twins.

``Folks have taken this other path,'' said Coleman, referring to the proposal defeated Wednesday. ``It has been unsuccessful.''

He said the St. Paul proposal is the only current one that has a chance of getting approved by state legislators. Like the other, it calls for a $300 million ballpark (near the Xcel Energy Center), but the breakdown of contributors might be more palatable to legislators: $150 million from the Twins, $25 million in other private financing, with the city paying the remaining $125 million. The city's portion would come from game-day revenue from city-owned parking ramps and a new tax on food and liquor sold at city bars and restaurants.

``It involves no outlay of state cash, although it uses the state's credit rating to borrow money,'' Coleman said. The state would issue up to $300 million in bonds, to be paid back by the city, the Twins and other private sources. Some of the private money might be cash.

The House bill defeated Wednesday would have provided a $140 million interest-free loan from the state, plus $10 million in sales tax breaks.

Coleman said the state bonds would be paid back with interest.

``This doesn't call for state dollars,'' he said. ``There's too much resistance at the Legislature to using state dollars.''

Minneapolis public and private officials said their plans to get a small privately financed ballpark in the city haven't been derailed.

``We continue right on down the path. Our deal was not contingent on the legislative bill,'' said Chuck Ballintine, Minneapolis' director of planning.

The Minneapolis city council this month gave staffers the go-ahead to work with the Twins, the owner of the proposed Warehouse District site for the ballpark and private officials to work out details of a ballpark proposal.

A consultant for New Ballpark Inc., a business group working to raise money to build a Twins venue in Minneapolis, said the potential investors shouldn't be swayed by the Legislature's decision.

Charles Neerland, a consultant for New Ballpark Inc., said the group is working to sell a $50 million private stock deal to help pay for a new ballpark. New Ballpark can do a deal without the legislative money, Neerland said. Coleman noted that Minneapolis cannot contribute more than $10 million to any stadium proposal because of a referendum approved by the voters. Minneapolis officials have tried to get Hennepin County to help with a ballpark.

``I hope whatever is done doesn't circumvent the will of the people,'' Coleman said of the county alternative.