Twins stadium proposal passes key test

Full house
Supporters and opponents packed a Senate committee hearing Thursday night on whether to build a new Twins stadium.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

It wasn't a typical committee hearing. For one thing, the 600-seat auditorium at Oak Grove Middle School was packed with both stadium supporters and opponents. Many stadium supporters wore the familiar Twins colors of red and blue.

Opponents held signs urging the committee to let Hennepin County residents vote on the proposed .15-percent sales tax increase to fund the $522 million ballpark.

Twins stadium
Artist sketch of the proposed Twins stadium.
Courtesy HOK

Sensing a rowdy audience, the chair of the committee, Republican Rep. Phil Krinkie, urged the audience to respect the viewpoints of those who testified before the committee.

"This isn't a ball game, folks. This is a committee hearing so if you want to go cheer, we encourage you to go the ball game," he warned.

But the audience ignored Krinkie's plea. Both boos and cheers rained down on many people who testified, like Edina resident Laura Lehman.

"Please hold to the law, and insist that the required referendum be held," Lehman said.

No money for Pohlad
One audience member expressed his opposition to the stadium proposal.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Committee time was mostly reserved for stadium opponents. They urged the committee to require a voter referendum on the proposed county sales tax. The tax amounts to three cents for every $20 spent in Hennepin County. It would provide three-quarters of the project's estimated $522 million cost. Twins owner Carl Pohlad would contribute $130 million.

John Zimmerman of Minneapolis says he figured the tax would cost him about $20 a year. He said it didn't seem like much until he added up how much it would cost him over the expected life of the tax.

"Over 30 years, that tax adds up to $600. That's real money. That's real money that I could be spending putting my daughters through school, paying down my home note," Zimmerman said. Other opponents said they didn't see the need for a sales tax for a stadium when other projects, like schools and homeless shelters, also need funding.

John Rieder of Bloomington also questioned those who say the Twins improve Minnesota's quality of life.

If a referendum is a deal breaker, we should be clear that it's a deal broken not by the members of this committee but by the Twins and the county of Hennepin. They're responsible for their decisions.

"We have lost Control Data, Honeywell, the Ford plant in the near future and a few others. Our world never came to end, and it will not come to and end if the Twins leave, the Vikings leave or anybody else leaves," Rieder said.

A court ruling earlier this year allows the Twins to leave the Metrodome after the current season.

In all, 33 opponents testified against the bill. The committee also heard from stadium supporters, who had three hours to testify on Wednesday.

Once the testimony was over, the committee addressed the referendum issue. State law requires a public vote by Hennepin County residents, but the bill would allow the proposal to skip that step.

Opponents say the team and the county don't support the referendum because they're afraid county residents will reject the tax increase. The Twins and Hennepin County say a vote would cause a delay and add to the total cost of the park. They say they'd abandon the proposal if it includes a referendum.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, says he isn't happy with that line-in-the-sand approach. He said the Twins and the county haven't convinced him voters should be denied their say.

"If a referendum is a deal breaker, we should be clear that it's a deal broken not by the members of this committee, but by the Twins and the county of Hennepin. They're responsible for their decisions," Davnie said.

The committee, however, defeated an attempt to include the referendum on a 15-13 vote. Paul Marquardt, DFL-Dilworth, said he didn't want to be responsible for defeating the stadium proposal.

Twins president Jerry Bell
Twins Sports Inc. President Jerry Bell called the committee action a huge step forward in their quest for a new stadium.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"I'm going to vote 'no' on this amendment because it's a deal-breaker, and I want to see the Twins stadium plan work," Marquardt said.

Twins Sports Inc. President Jerry Bell called the committee action a huge step forward in the team's quest for a new stadium.

"To be able to move forward from this committee with the bill in the shape, at least so far, in shape the way it was when we came here, goes a long way to getting a ballpark built," said Bell.

The committee is expected to consider several more amendments on Friday. If the bill is approved, it would move to the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill is awaiting consideration in the Senate Taxes Committee.

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