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Twins stadium bill stays alive, but without team's support
by Robert Whereatt

The House Taxes Committee approved a stadium-funding plan Monday for the Minnesota Twins by a comfortable 15-9 margin with one abstention.

After the vote, Twins president Jerry Bell reiterated that it is "doubtful" that he and team owner Carl Pohlad can support the House bill in its present form.

It calls for the team and other private sources to put up $150 million for a $300 million open-air stadium. The state would provide a $140 million loan to the host city from the sale of revenue bonds. The bonds would be repaid over 30 years by a 10 percent ticket tax and the team's lease payments on the stadium.

The Twins would guarantee repayment if those sources weren't sufficient. In addition, a sales-tax exemption on construction materials is part of the plan; that tax break would be worth $10 million.

Bell told the committee that because the details of the bill keep changing, he can't make a recommendation to Pohlad "until there is a final vote."

The bill was sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it will be heard today. It still may have to make one more committee stop after that before it could get to the House floor.

The bill could stumble along the way, but House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, has indicated he'd like the entire House to vote on the issue.

Sviggum, a long-time stadium opponent, said Monday that he backs the current bill because, unlike a previous proposal, the loan would be repaid with interest and there would be no ongoing tax-free zone designated for the stadium. Under this bill, those who would use the stadium and those who would benefit from it would pay for it, he said.

"As it currently stands, I'll vote for the bill," Sviggum said.

The Senate stadium bill is more generous to the Twins. It would provide an interest-free $100 million loan. In addition, the Metropolitan Council would provide $40 million in revenue bonds and the same $10 million sales tax exemption as the House bill. The Twins and private sources would pay the remaining $150 million.

The Senate bill is scheduled for a hearing today in the Taxes Committee.

In the House Taxes Committee, eight DFLers and seven Republicans voted for the bill. Seven Republicans and two DFLers voted against it. Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, abstained.

Amendments to bill

Several amendments were tacked on before the final vote.

One would require Major League Baseball to guarantee that the team would remain in Minnesota for the life of the loan -- 30 years.

"This has nothing to do with the Pohlads," said committee Chairman Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, who sponsored the amendment. "I want to take the wheels off [the team]," he said.

Another amendment, offered by Rep. Andy Dawkins, DFL-St. Paul, would limit local units of government seeking to be the host city for the stadium to contribute no more than land and a parking facility.

Dawkins said he wants to prevent a bidding war by competing cities that could harm local property taxpayers.

Under the bill, the host city would own the stadium. Naming rights to the facility would go to the host city, which would use the resulting proceeds to operate the stadium.

Other amendments added to the legislation would:

  • Require at least 10,500 general-admission seats to be sold for no more than $5 apiece.
  • Make the stadium a no-smoking facility.

Several citizens testified against the legislation before the vote.

Paul Moberg, of Minneapolis, said Pohlad has "enough wealth to build two of these stadiums and still be a billionaire."

Greg Pettersen, of Spring Lake Park, said that published reports show the team has a book value of about $100 million and debt of $84 million.

No banker would provide a $140 million loan to anyone in that fiscal condition, but the state is considering it, Pettersen said. In fact, however, the state would lend the money to the host city, not the Twins, under the bill.

A Wild deal?

At one point, Abrams asked whether the Twins would accept a deal like the one approved by the Legislature in 1998 to fund the $135 million Xcel Center for the Minnesota Wild hockey team.

Under that law, the state provided an interest-free loan of $65 million. Subsequently, $17 million was forgiven.

St. Paul provided $65 million, which the team is repaying through rent and ticket taxes. There also was a sales tax exemption of $5 million on construction materials. And the Wild retained naming rights.

Bell didn't commit the team to a Wild-like deal, but said he would review it.