Building a new Twins ballpark

The latest Twins stadium proposal is smart and remarkably pain-free.

Building a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins has always been a divisive issue. It was no small feat, then, when Hennepin County and Twins officials unveiled the latest stadium proposal last week.

The plan offers Minnesotans a remarkably pain-free and smart way to fund a new ballpark. State and local officials certainly would be wise to seek public input and to allow a healthy debate to proceed. But when it comes time to make a decision, they should not hesitate to approve the construction of a new Twins stadium.

The new proposal would move the Twins into a 42,000-seat, open-air ballpark behind the Target Center. Construction costs of $478 million would be split between Hennepin County and the Twins, freeing the state of any financing burden.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad would provide $125 million, with $40 million of that up front and the remainder paid before the projected completion in 2009. Hennepin County would raise another $353 million through county-issued bonds and a 0.15 percent hike in the sales tax.

Cynics searching for the proverbial devil in the details will find little to protest. The plan requires the Twins to cover annual operating expenses of $10 million and a sizable chunk of annual capital improvement costs. Hennepin County officials also would require the Twins to sign a 30-year “no-escape” lease and to cover all construction-cost overruns.

Stadium opponents have rightly urged the need for public input and the chance to fully debate the plan’s merits. There are valid questions about a plan to build a stadium when the state’s venerable social-safety net is fraying. But the latest proposal would rely exclusively on proceeds from the Twins and a miniscule tax increase. Rather than nixing a stadium deal, lawmakers intent on protecting social services from budget cuts should focus their efforts on combating Republican policies in the State Legislature and the governor’s house.

The stadium proposal is hardly a foregone conclusion. The Hennepin County Board must still pass the plan, and the Legislature must approve the sales-tax increase. But lawmakers should remember: The latest plan is about as good as it gets.