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No contract for the Twins ready between Beaver, Pohlad
by John A. Nagy

Don Beaver, the Hickory businessman who wants to bring Major League Baseball to the Triad, will take his cause before the voters Tuesday without an important element in place -- a signed purchase agreement for the Minnesota Twins.

Although Beaver and Twins owner Carl Pohlad agreed last October to a tentative deal, it's never been completed, even though there was a March 31 deadline for finalizing the agreement.

That deadline, however, has turned out to be meaningless.

Still, Beaver remains optimistic that a deal is not far off, but baseball insiders question Pohlad's intention to sell the team and move it to North Carolina.

When Beaver signed the letter of intent to buy the Twins last Oct. 3 in Minneapolis, he expected to have a completed agreement before the May 5 vote in Guilford and Forsyth counties. Having such an agreement could have lent greater credibility to the baseball campaign.

But the process has been slower than anticipated.

"The attorneys are still working on things," Beaver said last week. "(The Twins) are still interested and we're still interested."

Beaver said issues such as tax implications from the team's sale have bogged down negotiations. Also, the Minnesota attorney general and the Minneapolis stadium authority have legal actions pending against the Twins for threatening to leave town. And with the baseball season now underway, team officials are also focused on day-to-day issues.

"We're going to get (an agreement) done when we can," Beaver said.

Beaver, Pohlad and their respective lieutenants have been meeting or talking over the phone frequently, sometimes daily. Pohlad and Twins president Jerry Bell flew into Greensboro early last month for the day to see the Triad and meet with Beaver and his top aide, Tim Newman.

Neither side would comment on the nature of that meeting.

Some baseball insiders have said that no deal has been signed because Pohlad, 82, remains reluctant to sell the team. Some in the Twins organization have said Pohlad isn't sure whether he wants to go through with a move, sell to another Minnesota group, become a partner with Beaver or go to the Minnesota Legislature one more time.

If that is true, Pohlad isn't saying. He's turned down interview requests and attempts to reach Bell for comment were unsuccessful.

Critics of the Triad baseball effort, both in North Carolina and Minnesota, have maintained that Pohlad is simply using Beaver to get a publicly financed ballpark in Minnesota. Beaver doesn't discount that Pohlad has leverage, but he believes a deal ultimately will get done.

With the Triad baseball vote now just a day away, Beaver said he had no idea of how a signed agreement with Pohlad might have influenced the results.

"There's no use to speculate," he said, "because we're not going to have that."

Voters in Forsyth and Guilford counties on Tuesday will decide whether to impose a 1 percent prepared-foods tax on all meals, food and beverages served in restaurants and cafeterias in both counties, as well as a 50-cent tax on all baseball tickets.

Tax proceeds would go toward construction and financing of a baseball stadium. If the vote passes and Beaver is successful in buying the Twins, he likely would move the team to Fort Mill, S.C., for two years while a stadium is built in the Triad. Fort Mill is where Beaver's triple-A team, the Charlotte Knights, play now.

A new stadium would cost about $210 million; $70 million would come from Beaver's group and $140 million would come from the food and ticket taxes. The prepared-foods tax would not be imposed unless, and until, Major League Baseball awarded the Triad a team.

That fact alone is the key. A signed agreement between Beaver and Pohlad is only as valid as the other Major League Baseball owners allow it to be. They can overrule any sale, impose other conditions or persuade Pohlad to sell to another bidder in Minneapolis.

It's been done before. When the owners of the San Francisco Giants threatened to move to Tampa several years ago, the remaining baseball owners blocked the move and forced the sale to another San Francisco ownership group.

A similar scenario could play out this time. In an interview last week with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, interim Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig remained cool toward the Triad.

"Even if a referendum passes there, it (a stadium) won't necessarily be built there," he told the Star-Tribune. "That's a decision the owners of the team have to make," along with the rest of baseball's owners.

At least one owner -- Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles -- favors the Triad over Charlotte -- but said he doesn't think that matters.

"I'm still convinced (the Twins) are not going to move," he told the Star-Tribune.

Baseball has not allowed a franchise to move in more than 25 years, and there clearly are signs the owners are concerned about the Twins relocating to the Triad. Some owners have said previously they are concerned about the small size and untested nature of the Triad market. And they are bothered by the two years the Twins would have to play in a renovated minor-league ballpark south of Charlotte before moving into a permanent stadium.

But Beaver remains optimistic and says he's not heard anything he considers discouraging from other owners.

"At the last owners' meeting, they said they were going to be watching (the vote) with interest," he said. "Everything I heard from most of the owners is that North Carolina is one of the best markets."

Jay Weiner of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune contributed to this report.