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Stadium bill signed into law
by Aron Khan

Gov. Jesse Ventura signed the Minnesota Twins ballpark bill Wednesday, launching a crusade that will need much more than the thrust of state law to succeed.

Ventura, who went from ballpark opponent to architect of the ultimate financing plan, said he's proud of the state's limited role as banker.

"Hey, I don't think anyone will truly criticize us for that,'' he said. "I hope not, anyway.''

The ballpark deal, whose details were developed by Assistant Minnesota Finance Commissioner Peter Sausen, seemed to appeal to lawmakers politically more than on considerations of merit.

Facing elections in the fall, legislators will be able to tell constituents that no statewide taxes are involved in the project, and that taxes in St. Paul or Minneapolis will be imposed only after a successful referendum of local voters. Ventura had insisted on the vote.

Of the many obstacles standing in the way of construction, the referendum is one of the most imposing. As for the date of the vote, which must be held by Sept. 30, Ventura had some advice for the two cities.

"I would highly recommend to both mayors that the vote be taken on primary day,'' Ventura said, referring to Sept. 10. "None of these gimmick elections, July 4th or something, when everyone's out of town.''

Another daunting obstacle is winning a promise from Major League Baseball to keep a team here for 30 years. The pledge will be difficult to obtain because there's no assurance for baseball that a new stadium will boost Twins revenue continually over that period.

St. Paul is leading the race to become the host community because Minneapolis is handicapped by a charter amendment prohibiting that city from spending more than $10 million on a stadium. Also, city leaders in St. Paul are more firmly behind the ballpark project than their Minneapolis counterparts.

The financing works this way:

The Twins would pay $120 million up front to begin retiring a $330 million state loan.

Subject to the referendum, the host community would levy a variety of taxes on bars, restaurants, lodging or parking to assist in the loan repayment, producing no less than $12 million year for that purpose. If the combined funds are not sufficient to pay the debt, the city could impose a tax on ballpark tickets to make up the difference.

The Twins would get all the revenue from the ballpark but would have to pay annual rent to cover operating expenses, estimated at $10 million to $12 million a year.

While Minneapolis is limited by its charter, St. Paul may be hampered by history. A stadium referendum in 1999 was defeated by a 16 percent margin. Ballpark boosters will try to reverse that figure by pointing out that the recent addition of the Minnesota Wild and Xcel Energy Center have been good for the city.

Despite the problems, Jim Pohlad, eldest son of Twins owner Carl Pohlad, hailed the legislation, won after seven years of trying.

"This bill is a huge, huge step,'' he said. "There's no question.''

Staff Writer Jim Ragsdale and the Associated Press contributed to this article.