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All sides are dusting off old stadium plans
by Rochelle Olson

With the possibility of losing the Minnesota Twins looming ever larger, many previously discarded stadium plans have found new life -- for now.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the state Revenue Department is conducting an analysis of every possible stadium funding source. "You're going to see a whole litany of plans," he said. "We're turning every rock over for every user fee, local-option sales tax and the possibility of a referendum."

Since 1997, the Legislature has rejected every permutation of a stadium plan that was presented to the lawmakers. Now Major League Baseball appears to be on the verge of abolishing the team even as business and civic leaders grope for ways to stop the departure.

Johnson will be among those appearing Thursday before the recently appointed Tri-partisan Task Force on Stadium Issues. The panel is looking at ways to keep the team in Minnesota, despite reports that other owners are prepared to pay owner Carl Pohlad to fold his team.

Minneapolis Mayor-elect R.T. Rybak also expects to participate in that meeting. He said the city will have a proposal, but he declined to divulge any details. "This can't be done the old way because it's clear the majority of the public is against the old way," Rybak said. He rejected suggestions that the public and private sectors share the cost of a new ballpark equally.

St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and Mayor-elect Randy Kelly say they intend to go to the same panel with a plan for a $350 million ballpark in the capital city. St. Paul would pay $150 million financed by a 3 percent downtown bar-restaurant tax plus parking revenues. The Twins would be expected to contribute $150 million, and other private corporations $50 million.

"I'm not sure if anything can work. The only thing that can work is if a local municipality steps up," Coleman said.

Kelly said the context has changed since Coleman first proffered the plan earlier this year. "We are seriously confronted with the loss of this public asset," Kelly said.

Also, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, have renewed a push for community ownership of the team.

House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, has been an opponent of stadium subsidies and called the recent reincarnation of many plans "back to the future. ... "

"The only question is whether the public sentiment or leadership dynamic has changed," he said. "That's going to have to play out a bit."

But Karla Blomberg, a member of the state panel, finds hope in the notion that various forces are redoubling their efforts and resubmitting proposals. "It's time for everybody to put their former bias aside and look at these things with a clean, unjaundiced eye," said Blomberg, a Realtor from New Brighton.

Last year, Blomberg was co-chairwoman of Citizens for Major League Baseball, a panel convened by the Twins to find a way to keep the team here. "There's been so many groups that really want to make this happen, it's strange that it hasn't happened," she said.

Owners meet Tuesday

Even as the various options gasped for air again, the noose seems to be tightening around the team's neck. Baseball's owners are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Chicago for an update on eliminating teams.

The owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams for the 2002 season, and although the teams were not named, they are believed to be the Twins and the Montreal Expos. Commissioner Bud Selig wants the plans finalized by mid-December, and it's possible he will formally announce the teams to be eliminated Tuesday.

Obstacles to the plan remain, including pending litigation in Minnesota that could force the Twins to field a team next season to fulfill the final year of the team's Metrodome lease.

The owners' actions and the outcome of the lawsuit will go a long way in determining whether any of the resurrected stadium plans see real rejuvenation. The Twins have asked the state Supreme Court for an expedited appeal of the lower court's order.

"If the courts rule against us and Major League Baseball votes to contract, we're only talking to ourselves. ... It's all over," Johnson said, adding that he thinks taxpayers are more willing to help the team now.

No shift

House Taxes Chairman Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, disagreed, saying he had no evidence of a legislative shift in favor of stadium subsidies.

"Those who have been in favor of it in the past are still in favor of it. People who were opposed are still opposed," said Abrams, who added that he remains in the "mushy middle."

What's more, Abrams said, voters are more worried about their employment, their children's education and homeland security than the Twins.

Still, the proposal peddling isn't likely to stop until the final hour.

Coleman said his proposal makes sense because it doesn't require state money.

Rybak said he is conducting "shuttle diplomacy" to try to bring people together. "I feel the public strongly wants the Twins here, but they don't want it done in a way that requires the public to take the lead," he said.

Kelly said, "We have no choice but to attempt to move forward and keep the Twins in Minnesota."

But because Minnesota has said no to every previous stadium plan, Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier said he sensed it's too late to keep the team.

"I think there's a real likelihood that Major League Baseball owners want the Twin Cities to be the pelt on their wall," he said. "It will be a summer of tractor pulls in the Metrodome."