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Minneapolis renews bid for Twins
by Jay Weiner

Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and leaders of the Hennepin County Board told Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad on Wednesday that they have formed a partnership to develop a ballpark finance plan they said won't require state money.

The public officials didn't disclose firm details of the unfinished plan, but one of the funding options under consideration is a countywide sales tax, City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes said. Cherryhomes, Sayles Belton, County Board Chairman Randy Johnson and County Board Vice Chairman Peter McLaughlin insisted that no final decisions have been made about how to pay for a Mississippi riverfront ballpark.

The mayor also said that the city-county plan probably wouldn't require the approval of Minneapolis voters. A previous vote limited city funding for a sports facility to $10 million.

The Minneapolis-Hennepin County effort comes in the wake of St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman's campaign to build the Twins a stadium in St. Paul. Earlier Wednesday, just hours before hearing Sayles-Belton's plea to keep the Twins in Minneapolis, Pohlad, two of his sons and Twins president Jerry Bell joined Coleman on a guided tour of potential downtown St. Paul ballpark sites.

"It's a little better feeling than a couple of years ago," said Bell, who has been Pohlad's stadium point man for five years, living through endless proposals, failed finance plans and legislative defeats.

Sayles Belton said the message her delegation gave Pohlad was that "we are quite serious together to keep professional sports -- baseball, in particular -- in downtown Minneapolis, the downtown of the metropolitan area. . . . It's the best business location for baseball."

McLaughlin also emphasized that the county-city plan will try not to rely on state money. Coleman's emerging finance plan is assumed to require a state contribution of about $100 million. "Any deal is more difficult if it involves a discussion with the Legislature," Cherryhomes said.

As for Pohlad's reaction to the sudden show of affection, Bell said, "I can't answer anything until I know the details." Pohlad declined to comment.

Erich Mische, Coleman's top aide, said: "The world hasn't changed today." Coleman will have a public meeting on his ballpark plans next Thursday and may schedule a city referendum for November.

In both cities, the finance plans remain amorphous. Coleman has been trying to patch together enough city and team money to support a proposed $330 million open-air ballpark. A citywide sales tax or a downtown liquor and restaurant tax have been discussed.

The Hennepin County-Minneapolis partnership allows for "a broader [tax] base," McLaughlin said. Two years ago, Sayles Belton proposed a seven-county metro sales tax to fund a ballpark and mass-transit improvements. As part of that plan, the riverfront site, which is largely owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the county, would have been donated to the stadium project.

Sayles Belton's ballpark vision has been fairly consistent: She wants a stadium on the Mississippi riverfront near the Stone Arch Bridge, the Milwaukee Depot and a growing residential area. "A ballpark has to be a part of a community that's working 24 hours a day. We're building that neighborhood right now."

In November 1997, Minneapolis voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum that limited city funding for pro sports facilities to $10 million. Under the terms of that referendum, if the city plans to spend more than $10 million, it must go back to the voters. Sayles Belton said, "We don't think at this time" that a city referendum would be required under the still-developing plan. But asked if that meant the city's piece would be less than $10 million, she said, "We're not sure yet."

More details on the Hennepin County-Minneapolis plan are expected next week. Cherryhomes said a broad resolution supporting the new partnership probably will be presented Friday to the City Council. "We're definitely back in there," Cherryhomes said, a fact noticed by St. Paul stadium supporters.

Said St. Paul City Council Member Chris Coleman: "The only thing that would have surprised me would have been if Minneapolis hadn't made an attempt to put something together. Certainly, it's clear that they want to do something, but basically St. Paul has put the issue back on the table."