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Twins ballpark land price ruling leans toward county offer

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Priceless?
A panel has been weighing the value of this land in downtown Minneapolis, site of a new baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

There are a lot of numbers involved in the ballpark land condemnation dispute, but here are the most important.  The county made an offer of $13.8 million for the eight acre parcel earlier this spring.  They paid that amount and acquired the land through an eminent domain practice called "quick take".

The panel which reviewed the process upped the value of the land and set the award at $23.8 million. That means the county will now have to come up with another $10 million. 

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat thanked the condemnation commissioners for their work, but would have preferred a smaller award.

"We would have been thrilled to have a lower number, more toward the $13.8, in the teens somewhere. The other side wanted 65.  So I feel good the commission saw the wisdom in something much more reasonable than $65 million."

The award exceeds the county's land acquisition budget, according to Opat.  The county set aside $23 million of its $90 million infrastructure budget to pay for land.  But that was supposed to cover the cost of easements and air rights.  The Minnesota Twins have agreed to contribute an unspecified amount of money to help the county pay for infrastructure.  But Opat says they still may have to cut back on certain features for the ballpark.

"It's not a showstopper," he says.  "We're still going to have a ballpark. Now, we may have to make some changes.  Like anyone doing a remodeling project and gets a higher bill for framing, then you might not be able to afford the things you're going to look at everyday." 

If the panel's award is accepted by both parties the county will also be responsible for the landowner's legal fees.  That's because the award is more than 40 percent over the county's original offer.  

County officials say they've already spent $1 million towards its legal team.   Rich Pogin, a general partner with Landpartners II -- part of the team of landowners, says HIS legal fees are still accruing.

"If we told everybody to put their pencils down right now and clean their billing file it would probably be another three or four hundred thousands bucks --- on top of $2 million."  

Of course both sides will accumulate more legal fees if the parties go through a lengthy appeal.  And the 40 percent threshold will still apply to a new judgement that results from the trial.

Pogin says he has several partners to talk to before making a decision about an appeal.  But if there is an appeal, he says the members of the commission may be called as witnesses. 

On Monday, commissioner Larry Tucker filed a dissenting opinion with the court.  Tucker wrote in his dissent that the award should have been another $10 million higher than the number reached by the two other panelists. 

Pogin says Tucker would make a good witness for his side. 

"Since the dissenting commissioner is a licensed appraiser with 30 years experience and he's the only person on the panel who, in absence of being on a condemnation commission would be authorized or licensed to render an opinion of land value,  we think his opinion would carry significant weight with a jury." 

Each side has 40 days to decide if they will file an appeal.  A trial date has been set aside for November 13th.