St. Paul, Twins reach financing deal on new ballpark
On a balmy summer evening he called "a great night for outdoor
baseball," Mayor Norm Coleman announced late Monday that St. Paul
and the Twins have reached a financial and ownership agreement designed
to move the team to Minnesota's capital city.
A key element is that Twins owner Carl Pohlad, once a Twins savior and
now considered a roadblock to public support for a ballpark, has agreed
to sell 100 percent of the team to new buyers.
Owners of the NHL expansion team Minnesota Wild are expected to seriously
consider a bid for the team, which could cost at least $120 million to
"I am thrilled to announce that we have reached a historic agreement
with the Minnesota Twins," Coleman said. "We've got a whole new
ballgame in St. Paul."
Coleman said the agreement essentially requires the team, city and state
to each contribute one-third of the cost of the new ballpark. But he added
that the Twins have agreed to guarantee the state's portion as well as
their own, in the form of taxes collected on players' salaries and a set
of other taxes connected to the stadium.
The agreement, he said, also allows the city and state to take back
one-third of the appreciated value of the team, minus operating expenses,
should it be sold in the future.
The ballpark, to be owned by the city, would be completed by the spring
of 2003. The team would sign a 30-year lease with the city to operate,
manage and use the ballpark.
For the deal to work, however, three things still need to happen: new
owners must buy the entire interest of Carl Pohlad and his family by Oct.
1; St. Paul voters must approve an additional half-cent sales tax to provide
the city's portion of the costs at the November referendum; and the Legislature
must agree to provide state bonding for the upfront costs and also cover
a third of the construction.
The agreement commits the city and the team to each contribute $8.5
million per year toward construction of a $325 million open-air ballpark
for the 30 years of the lease.
Coleman said that Major League Baseball has given the go-ahead for the
sale and also approved the Twins' move to St. Paul.
Twins president Jerry Bell said that Pohlad agreed to sell the team
"The mayor and the Pohlads agreed if this is what helps make this
get done, we'll do it," Bell said. "It was an emotional thing
Going into the last days of talks between the team and the city, it
was expected that as little as 49 percent of the team would be required
to be sold.
Coleman said that no ownership group has yet been formed, but that he
was optimistic that such a group will be in place by the October deadline.
He said that he will play a direct role in putting that group together.
"There are a number of folks that are interested, very interested,"
he said. "Part of my job is to bring Major League Baseball to St.
Paul, and if that means sitting down with people, I'm going to make that
The state would probably bear the costs upfront of the stadium with
bonding and eventually need to contribute about one-third the cost of the
total project, Coleman said. The state's share would be guaranteed by the
team with a variety of taxes on players' salaries and the ballpark; if
the taxes don't equal the state's share, the Twins would guarantee the
"We believe this is an opportunity that the state can't say no
[to]," Coleman said. But he acknowledged that "if the state isn't
involved, this doesn't happen.".
Bell said he believed the deal struck about 10 p.m. Monday is "the
best out there" among a host of publicly subsidized ballparks. He
said the new deal has "more meat on the bones" than a failed
deal struck with Gov. Arne Carlson's administration in 1997. "And
it's less complicated," Bell said.
St. Paul voters will be asked Nov. 2 whether they approve of an additional
half-cent sales tax to fund the city's portion of the ballpark. The campaign
to pass that measure is expected to begin in earnest once a site is selected
for the ballpark.
Polling continues to show a large majority of the public opposed to
public funding, but Council Member Chris Coleman said that he believed
this deal would persuade the electorate to pass the proposed sales tax.
"This is a deal that makes sense for the voters and the people
of St. Paul," he said. "When they review the deal, we're going
to have voters change their minds."
Even if St. Paul voters approve the referendum, however, public funding
for the ballpark faces stiff opposition from the Legislature -- which has
repeatedly defeated efforts in the past to provide funding -- and Gov.
Jesse Ventura, who took a strong stand against public funding in his successful
campaign last year.
Coleman said the Twins have agreed to pay any cost overruns toward construction
of a ballpark -- a situation now plaguing the new Safeco stadium in Seattle.
The Twins also would pay team operating costs and cover maintenance of
The agreement was reached Monday night after intensive negotiating sessions
throughout the day. Leading the St. Paul effort was attorney Tom Fabel,
along with Deputy Mayor Susan Kimberly and City Council Member Chris Coleman.
They talked face-to-face for at least 5 hours with Bell and a representative
of Major League Baseball.
Among ownership possibilities most widely mentioned are leading members
of the Wild's partnership -- who include former billboard and rollerblading
magnate Robert Naegele -- who lives in Naples, Fla., and Minneapolis lawyer
and publisher Vance Opperman. Wild President Jac Sperling said last month
he would wait until the Twins-Coleman deal was announced to begin discussing
a dual-ownership arrangement with Wild partners.
Coleman said discussions with the Wild group would soon begin; the mayor
said he wasn't sure if the Wild ownership group can afford the Twins, whose
value in a new ballpark could be worth at least $175 million.
Minneapolis lawyer Clark Griffith, son of former Twins owner Calvin
Griffith, has long sought to buy the team and continues to bring investors
into an ownership group. But the Pohlads have consistently shunned Griffith.
Richard Burke of Medina, who once tried to bring the Winnipeg Jets to
the Twin Cities and now owns the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, also has been mentioned
in published reports as an ownership candidate. But Burke told the Star
Tribune Monday he's not interested.
"I already own a team and sometimes I can't afford that one, much
less another," Burke said. "Baseball is a level of financial
resources and assets that's beyond mine. So other than not having talked
about it, not having an interest, and not being able to afford it, it sounds
like a great idea."