by Neal St. Anthony and Robert Whereatt
Twin Cities attorney Mike Ciresi and businessman Vance Opperman are expected
to urge Gov. Jesse Ventura at a meeting Friday to support their effort to
assemble a group to buy the Twins from Carl Pohlad and explore possibilities for
a new baseball stadium.
"I think it's a positive that he called the meeting," Ciresi said.
"What's important is that, and I think the governor understands this, that
he needs to lead on this and be seen as trying to find a solution, one that fits
within parameters acceptable to Minnesotans."
Ciresi also said that he and Opperman hope to announce shortly the members of
their working group trying to acquire the Twins, partly as a message to Major
League Baseball owners, who will meet in December to consider eliminating two
teams, believed to be the Twins and the Montreal Expos.
Supporters of a still-nebulous plan to build an open-air ballpark in
Minnesota also believe they can raise substantial private money. Legislative
leaders have indicated there may be more interest in considering at least some
public financing once Pohlad is gone as the owner.
"The governor believes he has made his position on stadiums very, very
clear," said John Wodele, the governor's chief spokesman. [But] "if
someone has a miracle in their pocket that he can help facilitate, [Ventura's]
ready and willing, and he wants to let [the potential ownership group] know
Ciresi has said that he believes a financing plan for an outdoor stadium can
be developed that would increase team revenue, but that the public would have to
get some sort of "return" on any investment through bond sales or
Private and public supporters say they can't do anything if Major League
Baseball acts as early as December to subtract two teams.
As recently as last Friday, Ventura said that the Twins are a private
business owned by Pohlad and that it is Pohlad's right to sell the team to other
baseball owners. But any plan to build a new stadium, regardless of the team's
owner, would have to be consistent with the governor's position on funding,
"He thinks he has provided leadership on the stadium," Wodele said.
"He's not going to let Major League Baseball extort us into doing something
that's not in the best interest of the people."
Ventura has said he would not support any financing scheme that would be a
drain on the state's revenues.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was invited to the Friday meeting but isn't
able to attend, Wodele said. The governor, a Timberwolves season-ticket holder,
"I think the governor has a lot of respect for the way Mr. Taylor can
put a deal together in a professional and businesslike manner," Wodele
said. "Therefore, he thought he was a good person to have at the table,
even if he's just there for advice."
The Timberwolves play in an arena owned by the city of Minneapolis.
Taylor, a billionaire and former minority leader of the Minnesota Senate who
once tried to buy the Twins from Pohlad for more than $100 million, has been
publicly silent. However, businesspeople said recently that Taylor is in the
loop on developments, although he hasn't committed to being part of any effort
to buy the team yet.
Ralph Burnet, a minority partner in the Timberwolves and a friend of
Taylor's, said he couldn't speak for Taylor.
But, he said: "We certainly saw it as a benefit to [own] a winter sport
and a summer sport and maybe own a sports broadcast network [to increase revenue
flows]. To me, there's a good opportunity because you can offset downfalls in
bad seasons. But everything is kind of bouncing around. I'm interested in
keeping the Twins here."
St. Paul Mayor-elect Randy Kelly and Minneapolis Mayor-elect R.T. Rybak also
were invited to the meeting but are unable to attend because of previous
commitments, Wodele said.
The Rev. Ricky Rask, a familiar figure in 1997, said Wednesday that she is
reentering the stadium fray.
Rask, an ordained United Church of Christ minister, was the voice for much of
the opposition in 1997, contending that there were higher priorities for public
money than a stadium.
On Wednesday, she said she is concerned that a task force appointed by
legislative leaders and Ventura to study stadium issues appears tilted in favor
of those who want a new stadium.
"I thought there might be a willingness on the part of those who are
setting up this special task force to do it in a little more balanced way,"
she said. "And I was really counting on Jesse to sort of get a little more
balance on the committee. I'm not sure that he did."
The task force, composed of legislators, citizens and Ventura-administration
officials, is to look at needs of sports facilities for the Twins, as well as
the Vikings and the University of Minnesota football Gophers. Its first meeting
is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday in the State Capitol complex, said Dean Barkley,
director of State Planning and a Ventura appointee to the panel.
Last winter, Pohlad pledged $100 million toward a new stadium. And private
interests who formed a group called New Ballpark Inc. said they thought they
could raise at least $50 million toward a stadium that would be located just
north of downtown Minneapolis.
The promoters behind New Ballpark Inc. said last spring that baseball
Commissioner Bud Selig had assured them they had another year to seek a stadium
Others also are concerned about the timetable.
"We would love to have a one-year delay," said Minneapolis
businessman Harvey Mackay, who is part of the group that will meet with Ventura
and also is a Ventura appointee to the stadium task force. "Major League
Baseball's timing is atrocious. Why don't they give us until next January? All
the people on the task force believed we'd have at least a year."
Pohlad, 86, who is in the process of selling his Marquette Banks for an
estimated $1 billion to Wells Fargo & Co., was discouraged after five years
of trying to get legislative help to build a ballpark. And he appears to be in
the process of converting more of an estate estimated in the neighborhood of $2
billion to liquid assets.
New Ballpark Inc. leaders Jim Campbell, chairman of Wells Fargo Bank of
Minnesota, and John Murphy, an executive of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp., are
expected to revive efforts next week to look at financing options with attorneys
at Lindquist & Vennum and investment bankers at Piper Jaffray.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is under fire over contraction from its
players' union, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, U.S. senators and others.
Twins supporters hope that litigation or new laws could slow contraction,
which could occur as soon as next month.
"Litigation can be a tool, but eventually people have to agree to
something," Ciresi said.