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Business leaders will propose privately funded ball park
by Mark Brunswick, Rochelle Olson and Jay Weiner

Convinced that government efforts to build a baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins won't fly, a group of business and government leaders is preparing a plan for a scaled-back, mostly privately financed park in downtown Minneapolis.

The group, led by Star Tribune Publisher John Schueler and Jim Campbell, president and CEO of Norwest Bank Minnesota, envisions a boutique-style, "traditional neighborhood ballpark." Backers hope the park, modeled after Wrigley Field in Chicago or Fenway Park in Boston, would stimulate private development nearby. Early cost estimates are at least $120 million to $150 million, but Schueler said Monday those numbers are probably low.

The group, which has met quietly every other Thursday since January, has not worked out financing or chosen a site. But three locations are under early consideration -- the old Bureau of Engraving site on Portland Avenue near the Metrodome and the Star Tribune; a site in the warehouse district, likely near an auto dealership on Hennepin Avenue; and a site near the downtown incinerator.

Some of the ballpark supporters are forming a corporation called New Ball Park Inc., to raise money to develop the proposals. Campbell is its leader.

On Monday, a Star Tribune reporter obtained several memos and other documents circulating among leaders of the effort and took them to Schueler for comment.

Schueler confirmed that the plan is to have recommendations for an architect, site, and financing developed by August.

One of the proposals is to have a "design charette" -- a forum in which community members and officials hold an intensive, fast-paced discussion that leads to consensus on issues such as cost and development opportunities. Thursday Architects & Associates, a joint venture of several national architectural firms enlisted to help in the planning process, proposes conducting a 10-day charette in late July.

The business group has had limited contact with the Minnesota Twins and has only informally talked to Gov. Jesse Ventura's office, Schueler said. Some city leaders, including Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, are encouraging the group's effort.

Campbell, who Schueler said has been designated the point person for the group, was not available Monday for an interview.

A different approach  

The group has risen from the ashes of unsuccessful local stadium proposals and pledges to learn from previous groups' mistakes.

"The persistent unwillingness of Minnesota citizens to finance a $300 million to $500 million stadium for the Twins suggests that if there is to be public support for a new stadium it will have to be a different kind of stadium -- one that not only generates the revenues needed by the Twins, but more importantly one that clearly benefits and enhances the quality of public life in Minneapolis, and is less expensive as well," said an April 6 memo from Thursday Architects.

Following severe trouncings of stadium plans at the Legislature and by St. Paul voters, Schueler said he and Campbell began approaching business leaders, government officials and labor leaders about six months ago, asking what needs to be done to keep Major League Baseball in Minneapolis and what needs to be done to begin the discussion?

Hennepin County Board Member Mark Stenglein, a member of the group, said its members recognize that traditional public funding is not likely to be available.

He refused to discuss specifics, but said it is possible that the county or Minneapolis would establish a tax-increment financing (TIF) district to encourage development or be involved in a land swap. (TIF involves selling bonds that can be repaid by the property taxes generated at the development.) The county, for instance, owns much of the Bureau of Engraving site.

"Government's role will be very limited," he said. "There will be zero new tax dollars involved."

In an April 21 memo to Schueler and Campbell, public relations consultant Dave Mona, another leader of the initiative, raised many funding possibilities, most of them previously rejected by legislative committees or other governmental bodies. They ranged from rental car taxes to a proposal to use proceeds from casino gambling. Mona Monday called them "a laundry list that got no response from anyone" and said he wasn't aware that any of them are being seriously considered.

He added, "We know what won't work, and that's going to the Legislature for a whole bunch of money. I think that path is worn out."

A new kind of park  

The group has consulted Chicago architect Philip Bess for guidance on the neighborhood ballpark proposal. For the past 15 years, Bess, a professor at Michigan's Andrews University, has been a persistent but lonely voice among ballpark architects. He's advocated for old-style neighborhood-based ballparks, like Fenway and Wrigley. He's railed against the large scale of the so-called "retro" ballparks in Baltimore and Denver that are dipped in nostalgia but have become revenue-producing mini-malls.

In an interview from his Chicago home Monday, Bess said he could design a ballpark for Minneapolis that would cost about $150 million, could seat about 38,000 to 40,000 and would be "less expensive and more intimate." He said it would include luxury suites and club seating.

But he stressed that, in his vision, it would have to be "a neighborhood ballpark, even if it's downtown." Bess said any ballpark construction must be part of a larger master plan for ancillary development, but developers should not view the ballpark as "an anchor to an entertainment zone." Rather, he said, the area around the ballpark should have the "characteristics of a neighborhood," with housing, retail and public spaces.

The architectural firms working with the ballpark group say a "neighborhood ballpark" would:

Improve the economics and aesthetics of the neighborhood.

  • Generate revenues for the Twins comparable to current industry standards.
  • Permit and promote activities next to the ballpark, creating significant development opportunities.

The firms suggest that areas around the ballpark could produce private development totaling near the price of the facility.

Given the significant distaste from the public about new stadiums, the ballpark group has gone so far as to develop answers to anticipated questions about its effort, suggesting, according to an April 21 memo from Mona, that group members should be "all singing from the same page of the hymnal."

Among the suggestions: that the new facility be referred to as a ballpark, rather than a stadium, and pledging "relentless optimism."

Mona, chairman of the Shandwick Minneapolis public relations firm, said he became involved in April to help with communications issues. A WCCO Radio personality and former Minneapolis Tribune sports writer, he said the group was "born out of frustration that no one had taken the lead and time was slipping away."

New Twins CEO Chris Clouser said he has met individually with Mona, Schueler and Campbell, but declined to discuss details. He said the business leaders have been operating separately from the Twins. Indeed, Clouser said he'll soon announce formation of a Twins-backed ballpark-related citizens' commission to study the future of Major League Baseball in Minnesota. "The more people involved the better," he said. "We're really starting over, to a degree. And if the discussion moves to, 'What does the state and community want to do?' not what I want to do or [Twins owner] Carl [Pohlad] wants to, then that will make a real contribution to the discussion."

For now, neither Clouser nor the Pohlads have stadium plans of their own.

Other sites possible  

All plans are preliminary, Schueler said. The three sites under consideration, for instance, are ones that the city has identified as potential areas of development. But other sites might be considered as well, Schueler said.

In an April 6 memo to Schueler and City Council Member Paul Ostrow, Thursday Architects went into detail about advantages and problems associated with the three potential sites. The Bureau of Engraving site and the Warehouse District site, said the memo, are preferred because they would be most conducive to a neighborhood ballpark and to nearby private-sector development.

The group also recognized potential problems. Building on the Bureau of Engraving site might affect nearby Star Tribune property, creating the potential for allegations of conflict of interest for the newspaper. The Warehouse District site might fall within the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, which would require engaging potential neighborhood foes in talks over building preservation and development.

Publisher's involvement  

To avoid suggestions of a conflict, Schueler said neither the Star Tribune nor its parent, the McClatchy Co., nor the Star Tribune Foundation would contribute to New Ball Park Inc. But questions of a conflict between the newspaper's land holdings and profit motives and the integrity of its news coverage have risen before and are likely to surface again.

"You are walking a fine line without a doubt," Schueler said. "We are not going to try to be in the profit game on this at all. We are not going to donate land; we are not going to do those kind of things that make it a major conflict of interest. But at the same time, how do you escape the fact that we care deeply about downtown Minneapolis and we think that a downtown ballpark is a very important asset for this community?"

Star Tribune Editor Tim J. McGuire said he didn't know about Schueler's involvement until he heard it from a reporter.

Schueler and McGuire have since discussed the situation, and McGuire said he made it clear to Schueler that he was "not thrilled about his involvement."

McGuire said Schueler instructed him "to make sure that his [Schueler's] involvement does not interfere with the newsroom's pursuit of the story."

As for potential criticism of the newspaper, McGuire said, "I never know what to expect from people. All I can assure is that the newsroom will act independently."

Schueler was president and chief operating officer of the Orange County Register, a major daily newspaper in southern California, before assuming his duties at the Star Tribune in May 1998.

In California, he gained a reputation for being involved in community issues and was instrumental in pushing the newspaper as a corporate sponsor when the National Hockey League franchise, the Mighty Ducks, located in Anaheim. He is involved in a number of business groups locally, including the Capital City Partnership and the Minnesota Business Partnership.

Campbell is a well-known Norwest veteran whom Wells Fargo Chief Executive Dick Kovacevich left in charge of operations in Minnesota following Norwest's purchase of Wells Fargo in June 1998.

Support from city  

City leaders have been aware of New Ball Park's proposal and welcomed the push. "I think it's absolutely exciting that the business community is taking an active interest, an aggressive interest in baseball staying in Minneapolis," Sayles Belton said.

Ostrow is the City Council's point person on the issue. "I think this is a genuine effort to get something done in a way that reflects what I think everyone in the public and private sector should have learned from past discussions," Ostrow said.

The lessons, he said, are the importance of public participation in planning and the distaste for public stadium funding. Ostrow said he thinks the different process will yield a different result: "We have to change the paradigm we've been working with. I think we're moving toward a process that the people of Minneapolis can be proud of."

Ventura spokesman John Wodele said the governor was aware of the talks but didn't plan to "get involved actively."

"The governor certainly doesn't want to stand in the way of private endeavors -- and wouldn't -- and encourages that kind of entrepreneurship." The governor generally has opposed stadiums that would use state money.

Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Roberts, who was appointed by Ventura, said Schueler and Campbell told her about New Ball Park Inc. As for a mostly private initiative, Roberts said, "If it produces a new facility for baseball and, for the big picture, was a smart solution, I'd support it."