St. Paul stadium tax ruled out by voters

by Mike Wereschagin

Norm Coleman threw a hell of a game, but the last pitch for the St. Paul stadium tax was high, and its opponents walked home with a 58 to 42 percent win in Tuesday’s elections.
The proposal would have raised the city’s sales tax 1/2 percent to finance one-third of a new $325 million Minnesota Twins ballpark in St. Paul.
But 58 percent of the voters decided the tax was 1/2 percent too much, so the Twins will remain in Minneapolis. For now.
Bill Lester, executive director of Metropolitan Sports Facilities, the organization that oversees the Metrodome, said the Twins are locked in their lease for one more year.
“After that, they have three one-year lease options,” Lester said, adding that there were no plans for the Twins to leave the state.
“If another city had a stadium to offer them, it might be different. But right now, there is no place for them to go,” Lester said. “They’ll most likely be around for four more years. After that, who knows?”
David St. Peter, the Minnesota Twins senior vice president of business, said the club was disappointed with the election results, but added they had no plans to leave the state when their current lease is up.
But neither do they have plans to stay.
“Right now, we’re not ruling anything out, and we’re not ruling anything in,” St. Peter said. “We’re just focused on the 2000 season.”
The Twins receive limited advertisement revenue because of the hierarchy of ownership and management at the Metrodome, he said.
“The Twins rank dead last in stadium revenue,” St. Peter said. Despite this, he added that it was too soon to make concrete future plans for the team.
“We just have to let the dust settle a little and set a course for the organization,” he said.
Patrick Seeb, executive director of the St. Paul Riverfront Development Corp., supported the stadium tax along with St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
He was also involved in planning the ballpark to maximize its contribution to downtown St. Paul.
“The people have spoken, and it’s clear they don’t want to pay for a ballpark,” Seeb said, calling the results a missed opportunity. “We’ve lost the opportunity to bring in two million visitors a year to the city.”
He said the research he and others conducted showed that the Twins could not afford to build a stadium in St. Paul and still field a competitive team.
With this defeat, Seeb said he has little hope for the issue being revived any time in the near future.
“There is now no pathway for pro ball to come to this city,” he said.
A proposed billboard ban was also defeated in Tuesday’s elections. The initiative would have classified billboards as public nuisances, removing about half of them from city streets within five years.
The proposal was rejected 53 to 47 percent.
St. Paul-area special-interest groups who supported the initiative expect to bring the issue up again for next year’s elections.

Mike Wereschagin covers city government and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.