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Twins sign St. Paul deal; November stadium vote set
by Kevin Duchschere

Fresh from 11th-hour negotiations with Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad and other team officials, Mayor Norm Coleman announced Friday that the Twins have pledged to help him build a ballpark in St. Paul.

"This is a great opportunity for this community, for the city of St. Paul and really for the entire area," Coleman said at a late-afternoon City Hall news conference. "Baseball is a business that will bring upwards of 3 million people to the core of downtown."

The agreement contains promises that St. Paul and the Twins will iron out details of a stadium cost-sharing plan by Aug. 2, and arrange the sale of at least 49 percent of the franchise to new owners by Oct. 1. Coleman hopes fresh owners might result in more public support for the stadium plan.

"We felt that the only important thing was to keep baseball in Minnesota," Twins President Jerry Bell said after the meeting. "We've always wanted people to be able to vote on the stadium issue, so we decided to go with this plan."

Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials insisted that they weren't out of the ballpark race, but some expressed frustration at what they saw as the Pohlad family's lack of interest in working out a solution with them.

"We offered to sit down, roll up our sleeves and come up with a plan that is in the public's best interest. The Pohlads don't seem to want to do that. Right now that plan doesn't exist," said Hennepin County Board Vice Chairman Peter McLaughlin. "We can move on. Hennepin County has other priorities." Whatever plan either city pursues faces an uphill struggle against public opinion and a Legislature that has repeatedly rejected efforts to spend public money on new sports stadiums.

Bell and Coleman reached Friday's deal just in time for Coleman to race back to St. Paul from Minneapolis.

That was so he could personally file 1,247 petitions containing about 13,000 signatures with the Ramsey County Elections Bureau.

Stadium backers needed to submit 5,000 names by Friday to get Coleman's half-cent sales-tax financing proposal on the November ballot, but the mayor had hinted Thursday that he would not proceed on Friday without a commitment from the Twins.

Coleman had 13 minutes to spare. "We made the deadline," said St. Paul native and former baseball great Paul Molitor, now a Twins broadcaster, who accompanied Coleman.

Coleman aide Erich Mische said that campaign organizers have checked about 10,000 signatures and determined that at least 6,800 of them belong to registered voters who live in St. Paul. Election officials plan to return an official count by July 12.

At the news conference, Coleman stressed the economic benefits of a new ballpark, saying it would expand the city's tax base and spark an economic explosion of housing and jobs.

Coleman said he met for 90 minutes Friday with Pohlad, his sons Bob and Bill, Bell and other Twins officials. He said he also spoke twice by phone with Bud Selig, Major League Baseball commissioner and former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Coleman said he's seeking new ownership for the team because that would help sell the plan to the public. He said he has focused his efforts on private investors, preferably those with St. Paul or Minnesota ties.

"We've felt for a long time that a diversity of ownership is healthy," Bell said Friday. He said the Pohlad family would work with Coleman to identify new partners and would be willing to relinquish controlling interest in the team.

Still to be resolved is how much the Twins would contribute toward a new ballpark. In the past, Coleman has insisted that the team must pay one-third of the estimated $330 million cost. "I have no doubt that they will contribute substantially to make this work," Coleman said Friday.

Minneapolis miffed

Coleman called on Minneapolis officials to support St. Paul's effort to keep baseball in Minnesota, given his city's support for Minneapolis projects such as Target Center and the Minneapolis Convention Center.

"I've always been confident that we would reach this point, because this really is the only path that's available for the Twins. What plan is there in Minneapolis?" he said.

Officials from Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis had met with the Pohlads on Thursday but came away with little movement.

In Minneapolis City Hall, reaction seemed to be a mixture of betrayal and an attitude of, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, vacationing in Florida, released a written statement Friday reiterating her commitment to keep the Twins.

She said that Minneapolis "is the best market" for the Twins and that the tug-of-war to keep the team is unlikely to be decided in the next six months. "This is a marathon; we have a long way to go before this issue is ultimately decided by the Minnesota Legislature. This agreement will not derail our work to keep the Twins in Minneapolis."

Sayles Belton also took a shot at Coleman's stadium proposal, which, unlike a Hennepin County sales-tax proposal being floated in Minneapolis, requires state tax money.

Early reaction from legislators, however, has been equally tepid to the idea of authorizing new local sales taxes for stadium projects.

Minneapolis City Council Vice President Joe Biernat said that while the Twins' deal "is clearly a slap" to Minneapolis, he doubts it will have much effect. "We're being asked to temporarily leave the room, and that's a problem," Biernat said. "But it doesn't change anything in terms of what the city has to do, because ultimately this issue will be decided in St. Paul -- at the Legislature."

Charting a campaign

The campaign to pass the half-cent sales tax in St. Paul will essentially rely on two appeals: the economic benefits that would be generated by a downtown ballpark and the pride of having it on the east side of the Mississippi River.

Key players in the campaign, as in the petition drive, likely will include the Capital City Partnership, a corporate downtown development group; the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, a public-private organization promoting riverfront development; and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, which represents 1,500 businesses and a few nonprofit organizations.

John Labosky, head of the Capital City Partnership, said his organization has spent about $25,000 on financial projections and architectural sketches of the various proposed stadium sites. He said he expects to spend another $25,000 on coming up with one proposed site by November, and he said he will help chamber President Larry Dowell raise money from the business community to pay campaign expenses.

When people ask why they should believe Coleman's vision of a stadium-led economic resurgence in downtown St. Paul, stadium proponents will give them three reasons: Baltimore, Cleveland and Denver.

Organizers will lean heavily on the downtown growth that building new, traditionally styled outdoor ballparks has sparked in those cities to win over skeptical voters.

"A third would vote for it now, a third is adamantly opposed to it, and a middle third is leaning against it but is open to being informed and educated," Labosky said. "Our job is to put out the message that this isn't about the Twins, it's about helping to revitalize and continuing this unbelievable renaissance in downtown St. Paul."

A study commissioned by the Capital City Partnership and done by Minneapolis economic consultant Paul Anton estimated that a stadium would generate additional tax revenues of $1.9 million in 2001, based on annual ballpark attendance of 2.5 million people.

The Riverfront Corporation this week flew in Karle Seydel, an urban planner and architect who was a driving force behind the building of Coors Field in a rundown Denver neighborhood near downtown. Seydel threw out impressive figures on the ballpark's impact: a 400 percent increase in housing units and $8 million in private investment in the ballpark neighborhood.

Last week Coleman told City Council members that a new ballpark would create 725 full-time jobs and result in $85 million in direct spending.

Important to the campaign is the support of the Chamber of Commerce, since 87 percent of its members are small businesses whose balance sheets may be hurt by an increased sales tax.

Although his board must still formally endorse the stadium tax plan, the chamber's Dowell sounded an enthusiastic note at Friday's news conference. "We're excited about moving forward. . . . This is about economic opportunity for the future, and that is what we're interested in."