The Minneapolis City Council on Friday narrowly approved a tepid resolution
in support of exploring plans to build a Minnesota Twins stadium -- but
only after a heated three-hour debate on the city's proper priorities.
Hennepin County commissioners, meanwhile, could be debating a similar
measure as soon as Tuesday, although enthusiasm among board members for
any public funding of a new stadium has dwindled in recent weeks.
The Minneapolis resolution, which affirmed the city's interest in being
at the table for possible negotiations, passed 7-6 after impassioned pleas
from Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and blistering accusations of political
posturing from council stadium supporters and opponents alike.
Despite the intensity of the debate, Minneapolis officials still are
awaiting a formal financing plan that might compete with proposals from
St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, who hopes to put a stadium referendum on the
November ballot in his city.
A petition drive calling for St. Paul voters to consider a half-cent
sales tax increase will continue this weekend, even though organizers apparently
already have far more than the 5,000 signatures needed.
Larry Dowell, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said
Friday that somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 names have been collected.
Erich Mische, Coleman's ballpark manager, said stadium supporters planned
to submit the petitions to city election officials next Friday.
St. Paul officials hope to win a financial commitment from the Twins
within the next month to pay one-third of the proposed stadium's estimated
$330 million cost. Without such a pledge, Coleman has said, he will drop
efforts to win the approval of local voters and legislators to split the
Two weeks ago, the Minneapolis City Council deadlocked on a preliminary
On Friday, clauses in that resolution calling for the city to donate
land for a riverfront site and making a stronger financial commitment were
Friday's debate assumed that any financing would include an additional
half-cent sales tax increase throughout Hennepin County. Such a tax would
require approval of the Legislature -- which has steadfastly opposed past
efforts to spend tax dollars on a new stadium -- and the Hennepin County
Board. The proposed tax has been projected to raise about $70 million a
year, and has stadium supporters and others salivating over the additional
Sixth Ward Council Member Jim Niland, an outspoken stadium foe, tried
to amend the resolution, earmarking $25 million a year for affordable housing.
"There seems to be no problem making an expressed commitment to
[Twins owner] Carl Pohlad. How about an expressed commitment to our own
people?" Niland asked.
His amendment sparked the three-hour debate and raised the ire of council
stadium supporters who felt his move backed them into an untenable political
"What we are doing is creating trick bags for people to get in
and out of," said Council President Jackie Cherryhomes.
Some acknowledged that the debate was being at least partly driven by
Coleman's aggressive campaign in St. Paul.
"Norm is deadly serious out there, folks, and we are playing around,"
said 4th Ward Council Member Barb Johnson, who voted for the resolution.
Others, though, felt Minneapolis remained in a stronger position and
shouldn't overreact to outside pressures.
"We don't know how to negotiate," said 11th Ward Council Member
Dore Mead, who opposed the resolution. "We ought to be being invited
to the dance. Instead, we are throwing the party and picking up the tab
With 8th Ward Council Member Brian Herron absent for the earlier vote,
the council deadlocked 6-6 on the resolution that called for cooperating
with Hennepin County to raise money for a new downtown stadium and other
sports and nonsports projects through the sales tax.
Herron, who was generally considered to be a stadium supporter, voted
against the resolution Friday, saying more pressing problems faced the
city. But Council Vice President Joe Biernat changed his earlier vote and
supported the measure.
Council members voting against the stadium resolution were Niland, Herron,
Mead, Lisa McDonald, Lisa Goodman and Barret Lane. Voting in favor were
Cherryhomes, Biernat, Johnson, Sandy Colvin Roy, Paul Ostrow, Joan Campbell,
and Kathy Thurber.
After the vote, Sayles Belton said the lack of a clear mandate would
not impede her ability to move forward in talks.
At the county level, meanwhile, stadium supporters may be facing an
uphill battle of their own. Board Chairman Randy Johnson and Vice Chairman
Peter McLaughlin have been spearheading stadium efforts. A resolution similar
to the Minneapolis measure may be introduced as soon as Tuesday, but an
actual financing plan continues to elude county commissioners.
When the idea of using a sales tax increase surfaced, Board Member Mark
Stenglein expressed an interest in a stadium proposal, but only if it included
tax relief for property owners. Earlier this week, though, Stenglein said
he would not support a stadium proposal if it included raising any taxes.
Stenglein could be the deciding vote in the county debate. Three other
members of the seven-member board (Penny Steele, Gail Dorfman, and Mike
Opat) have previously opposed the plan. Board Member Mary Tambornino says
she wants to see a final proposal before deciding.