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Coleman demands Twins commitment before pursuing stadium vote
by Kevin Duchschere

Efforts to build a baseball stadium in St. Paul may end abruptly today unless the Minnesota Twins "finalize their commitment" to work with the city, Mayor Norm Coleman said Thursday night.

"If we don't get that by the close of business [today], I don't believe we can move forward with this initiative," he said at O'Gara's Bar while attending a celebration for volunteers who helped collect signatures in the past 2½ weeks.

More than 10,000 names have been collected to put a stadium funding plan on the fall ballot, at least twice the 5,000 signatures that must be filed with the city clerk by today.

Children were to have carried those petitions from Rice Park to City Hall at noon today. But Erich Mische, Coleman's top ballpark aide, said those plans have been canceled.

Instead, Mische said, city officials will spend the day deciding whether to file the petitions.

The mayor declined to say whether the team's commitment must be an exclusive deal in which the Twins pledge to work only with St. Paul at least through November, when voters would get a chance to register their views on the city's financing plan.

Until recently, Coleman and other city officials have said that they would need that kind of pact with the Twins sometime this month before proceeding with an expensive and time-consuming campaign to sell the plan, and its half-cent citywide sales tax, to a skeptical public.

Late Thursday night, Twins President Jerry Bell said Coleman hadn't said anything to him about possibly ending the campaign. Asked whether the Twins were close to a decision on a St. Paul stadium site, Bell said, "We'll deal with it tomorrow [Friday]."

Coleman said no deal has been reached but suggested broadly that something may be in the works. "There are still i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed," he said.

He met for half an hour Thursday with Jim Pohlad, son of Twins owner Carl Pohlad, but Mische said the meeting broke no new ground. Coleman also had a meeting with Twins officials Wednesday.

Mische said that getting a commitment from the Twins before filing the petitions is a matter of common sense.

"We want the Twins to be supporting our efforts, that they're going to move forward with us to keep baseball in Minnesota and St. Paul," Mische said. "What we need to get from the Twins is an indication of something, yes or no."

Recent polls have shown steadfast skepticism from St. Paul residents about public funding for a stadium. By ratios of nearly 2-1, they have registered disapproval for plans proposing a sales tax to raise the city's contribution.

Coleman acknowledged Thursday that selling his plan remains an uphill struggle at best and suggested that was one reason why a commitment from the Twins is so important now.

"In order to move forward, we need a commitment from the team to work with the city, to be part of this effort, with an understanding that if we make this happen, it will happen. We want to have people know that their views will mean something," he said.