Kahn, others talk funding for stadium

by Chris Vetter

Minnesota lawmakers might gamble on keeping the Twins in town, especially since several bills that would fund a new ballpark came before a legislative committee Wednesday.
Legislators in a joint meeting between the Senate and House Tax Committees heard testimony regarding seven separate plans that would fund a new outdoor stadium for the Minnesota Twins, who claim the Metrodome is no longer a profitable home for a Major League Baseball franchise.
The bill gaining the most attention during the past week proposes putting 1,500 slot machines and 50 blackjack tables at the Canterbury Park racetrack, which is only a few miles from Mystic Lake, a Native American-owned casino.
The State Lottery would also create a scratch-off instant game under the bill. Proceeds from the game would be used to fund construction for athletic facilities statewide.
Placing the machines in the park would mark the first time casino-style gambling is allowed on non-Indian reservation land in Minnesota.
Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, the sponsor of the gambling bill, said more than half the residents of Minnesota now favor his bill, which pays for the new ballpark entirely through gambling revenue. He cited the poll in Sunday’s Star Tribune that shows 60 percent of Minnesotans favor the gambling proposal.
Rep. Mark Holsten, R-Stillwater, sponsors the bill’s companion in the House.
“Our bill is without one cent of taxpayer money,” Day said. “The people in Minnesota have said they want the Twins to stay, but they don’t want to spend taxpayer money. That is what our bill does.”
In total, seven proposals were presented Wednesday. University area Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, presented her plan to buy the Twins for $100 million, then sell shares to the public; an ownership system similar to that currently used by the Green Bay Packers. Kahn called the plan a sound investment. Twins officials and Gov. Arne Carlson have said they are reluctant for the state to own part of the team.
However, the Day bill has grown in popularity, as Carlson, a longtime opponent of gambling expansion, switched his position last week and now favors the proposal.
“The Canterbury proposal seems to be the plan most legislators support,” Carlson said. “It is fair to say our position has moved into support of gambling for revenue for a baseball stadium.”
In addition, Day said his bill will also provide money for other areas in the state — not just the Twins stadium. “If this proposal gets in, we will have excess money,” Day said. “There will be money left over for a lot of things,” such as an environmental trust fund and revenue for poor Native Americans who don’t profit from casinos, he added.
While Senate Republicans have rallied around the gambling proposal, House Democrats have been skeptical of the $38 million Day estimates the Canterbury plan would earn. Rep. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, does not favor gambling expansion. She has sponsored the bill Twins owner Carl Pohlad supports.
The Pohlad bill would give 49 percent ownership of the team to the state, plus require a $15 million contribution from Pohlad.
Rest’s bill has lost favor in recent weeks, as both houses have added amendments to it that increase the Pohlad contribution to $50 million.
The bill has also struggled because attempts to include a viable funding package have failed. Such plans included a 10-cent per pack increase in current cigarette taxes and a 10 percent surcharge on sports clothes and memorabilia.
Another gambling proposal, sponsored by Rep. Bob Milbert, DFL-South St. Paul, would allow the state to build a casino on the former site of the Met Center in Bloomington — land currently owned by the Metropolitan Sports Commission.
The casino would be regulated by the Minnesota Lottery. Milbert said that since the casino would be across the street from the Mall of America, many of the mall’s 40 million annual visitors would stop there, as well.
Milbert agrees with Day, who said the only way the Twins will get a new ballpark is through gambling profits.
“From what I hear, there is a universal agreement — if we build a new stadium, it must be done with gambling money,” Milbert said.
The Twins can escape their lease with the Metrodome after this year if they draw less than 80 percent of the league average attendance.
Rep. Todd Van Dellen, R-Plymouth, has introduced a bill that would require the state to purchase the remainder of the Twins lease. To do so, the state would have to buy 800,000 Twins tickets this year to keep the team from breaking the lease. The Twins would then have to stay in the Metrodome until 2011.
Van Dellen estimated the cost of his proposal at $20.7 million, paid for with gambling proceeds from Canterbury Park.
The Legislature must move quickly to pass any stadium bill since the session ends May 19, and no stadium bill has passed a full floor vote in either house.