Pohlad’s ballpark plan is a good start

Twins owner Carl Pohlad last week opened the ante in his bid for state funds to build his team a new outdoor ballpark in downtown Minneapolis. Keeping in line with the good faith the Twins have maintained throughout the process, the plan is a solid point of departure for negotiation. By not looking to sell the team and offering the state both money and a substantial stake in the organization, the Pohlad family has reinforced their repeated vocal desire to keep the Twins in Minnesota. Although the deal is far from done, the Pohlad offer is a good start.
Under the proposal, Pohlad would give Minnesota $82.5 million in cash, $25.5 million in revenue generated by the new stadium and 49 percent ownership of the team, valued at $50 million. The total contribution of $158 million represents about 44 percent of the projected $354 million pricetag of a new ballpark. Also included in the plan are first rights for the state to purchase the remainder of the team in the event the Pohlad family decides to sell, as well as a 30-year lease in the new park — keeping the Twins in town well into the next century.
The plan has enough details to frame the discussion, but is flexible enough to evolve as the Legislature considers state funding. Reaction among legislators has been fair, though a few outspoken critics like Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, oppose any use of public money for the stadium. While the majority of legislators are waiting for more details, the fact that the plan isn’t ironclad allows for negotiation.
The chief complication arises in the question of how to raise funds. Property and sales taxes are off the table and taxing liquor and tobacco raise the moral concern of exploiting a consumer base that is often addicted to a product. Borrowing or issuing building bonds are options that would require special consideration as well. More wrinkles are added by St. Paul’s push for an NHL team, further stretching potential public support, and the need for baseball owners to approve the unique arrangement.
Any time the Legislature ponders supporting a private business with public funds, it must weigh the cost against the benefit to the community. The cost to the state, under the Pohlad plan, is easy enough to quantify: $196 million, $50 million of which would likely be paid by the City of Minneapolis for site preparation. The benefits are not nearly as clear, but no less real. In the case of a sports franchise, value can go beyond dollars and cents.
An outdoor ballpark fits perfectly into a revitalized Minneapolis riverfront — it would be the centerpiece of a series of parks stretching from Boom Island to the University. Connected to St. Anthony Main by the Stone Arch Bridge and right next door to the planned Mill Ruins Park, the ballpark would also fulfill the public desire for outdoor baseball evidenced locally by the success of the St. Paul Saints. Most important, and intangible, is the civic pride generated by a team whose two world championships eclipse any regional sporting achievement.
In the end, financing a new Twins stadium in a way that satisfies the needs of the team and the concerns of the public may prove to be the legislative juggling act of the decade. The Pohlad proposal at least takes a few balls out of the air, and is a firm step toward keeping Minnesota’s beloved Twins at home.