Legislators discuss funding methods for new Twins’ stadium

by Justin Ware

Legislators and a Twins official lobbied Thursday for the use of public funds to build a new stadium during the Stadium Task Force’s second meeting.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Wilmar, and Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, said the state’s economy relies on professional sports, while Twins President Jerry Bell defended attacks on the integrity of baseball and his team.

“In a perfect world, a public subsidy for building a baseball park would be absolutely zero,” Mares said. “Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.”

Mares said professional football and baseball are important to the Twin Cities’ economic prosperity.

Johnson said aside from the benefits the business community sees from professional sports, the state’s general fund – an account built with tax dollars – receives $8.1 million per year from professional athletes’ salaries.

He said if the Twins and Vikings moved, the fund would lose between $16 million and $17 million annually from income and sales taxes.

Mares said he gave a set of criteria he recommended the task force follow for determining the most responsible stadium solution for the Twins, Vikings and Gophers football team.

His advice to the task force was to reach a fair and responsible solution for the people of Minnesota. He said the committee should also discuss community ownership of the team and require 50 percent of all ballpark construction costs to come from the team.

“I want to congratulate Carl Pohlad,” Mares said. He applauded Pohlad’s offer last spring to contribute $150 million to the cost of a new stadium in Minneapolis.

Mares said Pohlad’s offer would cover roughly half the cost of the proposed stadium.

The average owner in similarly sized metropolitan areas only contributes 20 percent to the cost of a new stadium, he said.

But the Twins president defended his team’s financial plight.

“No one is a fan of baseball because of the economics,” Bell said.

He said the team has the worst facility, the worst lease and is second to last in revenues among the 30 Major League Baseball teams.

Bell said the Twins are $63 million below the league average in local revenues – a number that is derived mainly from broadcast dollars.

William Haddeland, task force chairman and senior adviser for Minnesota Public Radio, questioned if the numbers the Twins and MLB gave were accurate.

Haddeland said baseball claimed nearly $1 billion in losses in the last two years, but Forbes magazine reported the league made more than $450 million.

Bell said he would not speak for other members of MLB, but did say investment bankers came before the owners in Chicago earlier this week to say “enough is enough” when it came to giving future loans to teams in economic trouble.

Bell also said the Twins club is are more than happy to open its financial records for the state to examine.

Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]