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Minneapolis business leaders look under rocks for stadium funding
by Tony Kennedy

Minneapolis business leaders kicked around some numbers Thursday in considering financing alternatives to put their city back in the running for a new stadium that would keep the Minnesota Twins downtown.

The only conclusion reached was that it won't be easy to come up with $12 million a year, the minimum amount required of the host city in the stadium bill that Gov. Jesse Ventura signed Wednesday.

"I think what you are seeing is people turning rocks over," said Patrick Born, Minneapolis finance director.

"It's sobering because it takes a lot of taxes to raise $12 million," said Sam Grabarski, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, which represents the 50 largest businesses in the city.

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly is bidding for the proposed $330 million Twins ballpark with a plan that would raise an estimated $12 million a year from a 3 percent tax increase at bars and restaurants across the city.

Minneapolis is on the sidelines because it was planning to piggyback on Hennepin County's taxing muscle. Amid great controversy, the Legislature voted to exclude counties from the stadium sweepstakes, to keep an even playing field among cities.

Grabarski said the group spent 15 to 20 minutes of its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday discussing the stadium bill and financing alternatives. Twins President Jerry Bell attended the meeting, but said he left after explaining the bill.

"I think the group certainly doesn't want to give up on anything," he said.

The bill allows the host city to increase lodging, food and liquor taxes up to 5 percent, subject to a local referendum. The problem in Minneapolis is that downtown bar and restaurant tabs already carry a 13.5 percent tax on weekends. Business and political leaders have said that adding more than 1 percentage point to the tax rate probably would hurt the downtown economy.

And as the Downtown Council was reminded Thursday, a 1 percentage point increase wouldn't raise enough money. Even if applied citywide, Grabarski said, it would raise only $2.4 million a year.

Grabarski said the Downtown Council also looked at parking revenue. The stadium bill allows the host city to impose a parking surcharge of at least $2 on game days at the ballpark. By rough estimate, Born said, Minneapolis could raise $1.6 million a year if the surcharge were $2 and the Twins played 81 games at the park.

Even though the stadium bill doesn't mention a year-round parking tax that the host city could impose, Grabarski said a 25-cent parking surcharge could raise $4 million a year if it were applied year-round on the city's 64,000 parking spaces.

"We talked about it for purposes of discussion," he said. "What we're doing over here now is thoughtful analysis."

Meanwhile, state Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, urged Ventura to pursue a privately financed stadium. In a preview of antistadium arguments likely to surround any referendum, Marty told Ventura in a letter that there is a "real possibility" that St. Paul would reject Kelly's plan.

Marty said the plan would require $366 million in bond payments by the city over the planned 30-year life of the financing package, with up to $50 million more for infrastructure. The current value of that money is at least $200 million, he said.

"It is unnecessary to wait until September to see if St. Paul residents are willing to stomach 200 million in real dollars to subsidize Mr. Pohlad's private business," Marty said in a news release.

He was referring to billionaire Carl Pohlad, who owns the Twins.