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St. Paul Ballpark Referendum Fails
58 Percent Vote Against Half-Cent Sales Tax Increase For Stadium

ST. PAUL, November 3, 1999 -- St. Paul voters on Tuesday forcefully rejected a half-cent increase in the city's sales tax to help build a new baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins.

Unofficial returns showed the referendum failed 58 percent, 42,976 votes, to 42 percent, or 31,420 votes.

It was the heaviest voter turnout this decade during a non-gubernatorial election year - 50.74 percent.

"You've got to live with the voice of the people, and they have spoken," said Mayor Norm Coleman.

Coleman said he was disappointed and added that he felt the ballpark would have been a "tremendous opportunity" for the city.

Coleman had urged residents to approve the increase to fund the city's share of a proposed $325 million ballpark to lure the Twins across the river from Minneapolis. Under Coleman's plan, the city, state and Twins each would pay one-third of the ballpark's cost.

Twins President Jerry Bell said he was disappointed by the St. Paul vote and unsure what would come next for the team. The Twins have said they can't make enough money to survive in the Metrodome.

"We concentrated on the St. Paul effort," he said. "We didn't have any backup plan."

The referendum involved only St. Paul's end of the deal. Even if voters had approved the plan, it would have needed the approval of the Legislature and Gov. Jesse Ventura.

The referendum's failure also appeared to scotch a tentative sale of the team. Last month, Carl Pohlad had agreed to sell the team for $120 million to the principal owners of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves and the NHL's expansion Minnesota Wild, billionaire Glen Taylor and millionaire Robert Naegele Jr., but the deal hinged on construction of a new ballpark.

Naegele said he was surprised and disappointed by the election results, but wasn't ready to completely close the door on a future deal.

Ventura said Tuesday by phone from Japan that he had tried hard to stay neutral on the referendum, but was pleased with the high voter turnout.

As for the future, Ventura said he expects the issue to resurface.

"I think I've learned in this business, nothing's over. I would assume it's over for St. Paul," Ventura said, adding, "Then again, in this business, never assume."

Polls consistently showed scant support for the referendum, which was the most prominent question in a light, off-year election.

St. Paul Chamber of Commerce President Larry Dowell was disappointed, but doesn't know what the pro-stadium tax group led by the Chamber could have done differently.

"I think we ran a very smart campaign," Dowell said. "We had a battle that was so very clearly uphill that we couldn't overcome it."

Brishen Rogers of the anti-stadium tax campaign had worried that the "no" voters wouldn't get out and vote.

"We were on the phones making calls to people every night," he said. "The other thing I think we did right is we took the right side on the issue."

Among the voters in St. Paul was Suzane Carsner, 38, who voted to reject the tax increase.

"I'm not a sports fan and I guess I just don't agree with making everyone pay for it," said Carsner, who is single. "There's other things taxes should be used for."

A budget analyst for the city of St. Paul had estimated the annual cost of supporting the ballpark at $20.72 for each St. Paul resident, with the cost rising slightly over 14 years as bonds were paid off.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he wasn't surprised by the outcome of the election because polls consistently have shown scant support for public funding of sports stadiums. He doesn't expect the issue to come up during the 2000 legislative session.

"My guess is stadium proponents will have to find some mechanism that does not include raising taxes and include use of public funds," he said. "Clearly, the people have spoken."