Forum debates issues around new baseball stadium

by Emily Babcock

A new baseball stadium will keep the Minnesota Twins in town, agreed a three-member panel hosted by the University on Tuesday. The only disagreement was whether anyone should care.
The forum, part of the Carlson School of Management’s First Tuesday lecture series, comes as Twins owner Carl Pohlad is seeking state funds to build an outdoor ballpark to replace the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.
About 200 Carlson alumni, faculty members and students attended the luncheon debate. On the panel were two local reporters and a stadium proponent from the local business community who discussed sources of funding, the economic impact of professional sports and the use of gambling revenue for stadium construction.
Reporters Jay Weiner of the Star Tribune and Pat Sweeney of the Pioneer Press follow the stadium deal for their papers. They were joined on the panel by stadium advocate and Piper Jaffray, Inc. managing director Peter Gillette.
Gillette said that if the Legislature doesn’t do something soon, the Minnesota Twins will likely be sold and moved out of the state.
The city needs to assess the importance of having Major League Baseball as a status symbol to attract business and build community spirit, Gillette said, while the people need to assess how far they are willing to go to keep the Major League label.
“Doing nothing is a greater risk than doing something,” said Gillette, who last year served on the Sports Facilities Task Force.
The panelists compared the potential economic impact of a Twins move to the impact of losing the Minnesota North Stars hockey team in 1993.
Weiner said the money that hockey fans had spent on the professional team didn’t disappear, but rather it was spent on other entertainment options.
He said that a stadium decision shouldn’t be based solely on economic considerations.
“This is not only about baseball,” said Weiner. “It isn’t as simple as it seems.”
Sweeney said both he and his son still share memories of the Twins 1987 championship team. He also cited the importance of the University’s basketball team to local fans, who turned out in droves to cheer on the team through the national tournament this spring. He said those are the types of emotional issues that are being weighed against the costs.
But for the Twins, Sweeney said, the issue is money and not memories. The team wants a new stadium with modern amenities to boost its sagging revenue.
“It is not about outdoor vs. indoor baseball,” Sweeney said, “It’s all about the economics of baseball.”
Current proposals before the Legislature call for revenue from slot machines at Shakopee’s Canterbury Park racetrack to be used. This would mean gambling for the first time outside of Native American reservations. But Weiner said the gambling money would still not cover the entire cost of a new stadium.
Weiner said stadium advocates shouldn’t expect private business or the city to make up the difference.
“Everyone seems to be tapped out,” he said.
But Gillette stressed that the state must choose between finding the money or losing the Twins.
“If the Legislature doesn’t do something soon, Carl Pohlad is going to pull out,” Gillette said. “I firmly believe that would be a tragedy.”