Cities promote plans for Twins ballpark site

by Tom Ford

The House approval Monday of a $330 million stadium-funding bill – just weeks after the Senate passed an alternative proposal – brings the state a step closer to keeping the Twins in Minnesota.

Although the two legislative bodies still have to work out differences in their plans, debate has shifted to the location of a new ballpark.

This week, officials from Minneapolis and St. Paul are making the case for their cities to be home for the Twins.

But some Minneapolis City Council members said they would resist dedicating much public money to finance the ballpark.

Under the finance plan the House approved in an 80-52 vote, the Twins and other private interests would donate $165 million for the ballpark.

The state would sell $300 million in taxable revenue bonds, which would be given to a host city as a loan for stadium construction.

Paying back the loan would be the responsibility of that city. Local finance plans – expected to include user fees and possibly new taxes – must be approved by the city’s voters in a June referendum.

At a Monday press conference, St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly pledged the city’s commitment to snagging the team. He pointed to three potential sites, one of which would be near the Xcel Energy Center.

Laura Mortenson, Kelly’s spokeswoman, said the sites offer several benefits, but the locations’ preparation expenses would cost between $10 million and $20 million.

To finance the ballpark, Kelly is proposing a surcharge up to 3 percent on food and beverage sales in St. Paul bars and restaurants.

Mortenson said the surcharge could generate $10 million annually.

Several Minneapolis council members sent a letter to Gov. Jesse Ventura on Monday, touting the virtues of keeping the Twins’ home west of the Mississippi River.

Members identified an 11-acre downtown site near the Target Center as a location for a new ballpark.

The area is currently a parking lot owned by Investment Management.

Council President Paul Ostrow said the company is a willing seller and readying this location would entail minimal costs.

“There will be very little work to prepare the site for construction,” he said.

Since the site is used as a parking lot, the city would not have to deal with the costly relocation of businesses or homes, Ostrow said.

Also, he said, approximately 10,000 parking spaces surround the location. Through parking revenues, he said, the city could generate approximately $3 million each year.

Ostrow said along with a possible user fee on Twins tickets, residents would bear little tax burden for bankrolling the ballpark.

But some City Council members raised concerns about a clause in the House bill limiting local funding involvement to cities.

City Council member Barb Johnson said this would exclude involvement by Hennepin County and restrict revenue options.

Johnson said because the stadium would benefit citizens outside of the city, Minneapolis residents should not be expected to solely shoulder the financial strain.

One of two City Council members who didn’t sign the letter sent to Ventura, Paul Zerby said he was bothered by the letter’s apparent support of a Hennepin County finance plan.

Zerby said this plan appears to involve several new taxes – including those on county-wide hotel and car rentals – and not purely user fees, such as admission surcharges.

“I dearly love the Twins,” he said. “But I’m not in support of any public funding.”

City Council member Dean Zimmerman said he would oppose any finance plan that entails new or increased taxes not directly attributable to stadium attendance, such as surcharges on nearby restaurants or businesses.

“It’s nice to have a ball club here,” Zimmerman said. “But ‘nice’ and ‘necessary’ are not the same thing.”