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Minnesota free to leave
Twins can exercise escape clause after '98 season

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A mediator agreed with the Minnesota Twins that the team can exercise its escape clause to leave the Metrodome at the end of the 1998 baseball season.

The decision Tuesday by former Hennepin County District Judge Robert E. Bowen is nonbinding. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the stadium, intends to pursue other avenues, including possibly a lawsuit, to keep the Twins in Minnesota.

"We still view the Twins as an important asset, and we intend to try to keep them in Minnesota for the long term, preferably in a new stadium," commission executive director Bill Lester said.

Henry Savelkoul, commission chairman, said he would consult with Gov. Arne Carlson's staff, legislative leaders and other members of the commission before taking any legal action.

"We're going to do what we can to protect that asset," Savelkoul said of the Metrodome. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to protect it. We still want to do everything we can to keep the Twins here in other ways. The court situation will be a last, last, last resort."

Under terms of the escape clause, the Twins could terminate their lease before it expires in 2012 if the team fell below 80 percent of the American League attendance average over the course of the 1995, 1996 and 1997 seasons, or if the team suffered cumulative net operating losses over those three seasons.

The Twins say they have met the requirements.

Commission lawyers contend the team is to blame for low attendance and operating losses. The commission said unfair labor practices during the 1994 players' strike and threats to leave town for North Carolina have eroded support for the team.

But Bowen accepted the Twins' arguments that the lease should be interpreted literally.

Twins' attorney Roger Magnuson said the decision was "a full victory."