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Twins, Metrodome board near a deal
by Aron Kahn

A court settlement that would protect the Minnesota Twins from elimination through the end of next year could be approved Thursday by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.

The commission, which sued the Twins and Major League Baseball in an effort to stop the latter's proposed plan to eliminate the Twins, has scheduled a special meeting for 10 a.m. Thursday to act on the settlement. The agreement would remove a key hurdle in the effort to build a new Twins ballpark.

"We're hopeful we will have something we can recommend to the commission for its approval on Thursday," commission executive director Bill Lester said.

The commission, which owns and operates the Metrodome, postponed its vote on a tentative agreement last week because it wanted more time to review it. Since then, some details have been refined, said people familiar with the negotiations. The main tenets of the agreement are said to remain.

It's believed that under the proposed settlement, the commission would not sue the Twins and Major League Baseball during the 2002 and 2003 seasons unless the league tries to contract the team during that time. The commission also is trying to preserve its right to sue afterward if necessary, the sources said.

"The matters being negotiated relate to process and not the basic terms," a source said.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said last week that the league and the Twins were basically satisfied with the proposed settlement and were waiting for the commission's approval.

After the Twins were targeted for contraction in November, the commission sued the team and the league, accusing the Twins of breach of contract and Major League Baseball of poisoning future lease negotiations by inducing the team to take an industry buyout. The 1998 Metrodome use agreement between the commission and the Twins was a two-year deal with an option for three one-year renewals, which the Twins exercised for 2002 before contraction plans were unveiled.

Hennepin District Court Judge Harry Crump issued an injunction that killed contraction for 2002, but the commission sought a permanent order. Trial is scheduled for Aug. 19.

A settlement would help owner Carl Pohlad find a buyer for the Twins because it would eliminate thorny litigation from the table. It also would clear a major hurdle in getting a new stadium built.

The time of the commission meeting was set earlier Monday to adhere to laws concerning prior notice for events of public bodies.

Though baseball and the Twins are expected to approve the settlement, they too could delay an ultimate agreement should they resist some of the commission's proposed modifications.