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Bell discusses ballpark issue
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07/16/2003 7:37 PM ET
Bell discusses ballpark issue
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Because of its unique features and deafening crowd noise from fans, there are few better home-field advantages in baseball than the Metrodome provides for the Minnesota Twins, at least in the win-loss column.

But, nearly everyone is in agreement that the Twins can't compete with other clubs economically because of the limitations of playing in the outdated, multi-purpose facility -- built primarily for football.

After serving as the Twins' president for 15 years, Jerry Bell assumed the newly created position of president of the parent corporation, Twins Sports Inc., late last year. Since then, one of his primary responsibilities has been to lead the club's effort to get a new baseball-only ballpark built in the Twin Cities.

No new ballpark plan is in place yet, but Bell sat down recently with MLB.com to discuss the ongoing situation and some of the things that are happening behind the scenes.

MLB.com: As expected, the 2003 Minnesota legislative session ended without a new financing plan for a Twins ballpark. What is the next step for the organization to try and work something out?

Jerry Bell: If it's appropriate, meaning unless there's another huge and significant budget shortfall, we expect to be involved in the next session. It was not appropriate this year because there was such a huge deficit. Next year, we think is an important year for us.

MLB.com: Is it an urgent year?

Bell: Every year that goes by without this problem being solved, it gets to be more difficult to solve.

MLB.com: What is going on behind the scenes by the club and folks from the government and the private sector to line up ballpark support?

Bell: We've had a lot of conversations with legislators as well as business people. We think there is some pretty strong support, stronger than it's been in the past. I think the reasons for that are one, the team is doing better. That helps. The other is that the Legislature did pass a bill for a new ballpark, now a law, last year. Legislators went through an election cycle having voted for that and it wasn't an issue. I don't know if helped them but it didn't hurt them. So I think this is a subject legislators now feel they can deal with and not be severely criticized for it. That's important. Now that we do have a law, it's a matter of making some amendments to that for it to actually work. But, the public policy issue has been dealt with. The state thinks it's important to build a new ballpark. That's why they passed the bill.

MLB.com: For the people who are opposed to this, what are some methods of persuasion to get them to see it a different way?

Bell: Some people will never see it a different way. I think building a ballpark is not mutually exclusive to doing other things. It's important for a community or a state to be whole. Sports is clearly part of that -- it brings people together. Some people go to the ballpark. Some people read the newspaper and some people watch it on TV or listen to it on the radio. But all of those elements are part of a baseball team. Some people pay for it. Some people don't.

MLB.com: Obviously, you're not close to breaking ground on a place yet, but is there a preference to where this ballpark would go if approved?

Bell: I think that depends on who you talk to. I think the overriding issue is getting legislation that actually gets a ballpark built. Then we'll move to debate about where it should actually be located. Some of that should be dictated by good public policy, not who likes what spot, but actually which spot will be the best place in the long run -- in terms of infrastructure, benefits to the community and so on.

MLB.com: What can fans do or what avenue does the public have to get its feelings across to people in power?

Bell: There are two things. One, contact the Twins to get information. The next thing is to contact legislators and tell them in their own words why they think this is important.

MLB.com: Is Governor Pawlenty in favor of the ballpark?

Bell: Yes, he said publicly, and privately, that he would like to take a leadership role in seeing something done.

During a recent event to promote the Twins' Rookie League/RBI youth baseball program at the State Capitol, Pawlenty commented on the Twins' ballpark situation and appeared to be supportive.

"I think keeping the Twins is a goal we should pursue," Pawlenty said. "We've got to do it at a time that makes economic sense. Right now, we have other priorities. I think there is a way to do it that doesn't put the state's money at risk. We want to keep the Twins here. They're a big part of our community."

MLB.com: Will there need to be a referendum to get ballpark approval from the community?

Bell: People ought to think seriously about whether or not they really want a referendum. The reason for that is what happens if the referendum fails? There are two things that are a problem. One is, most baseball fans didn't get a chance to vote because it was held in one specific location. It's not a true reflection of what people in Minnesota feel, only a certain community. Secondly, what will you do if it fails? The problem doesn't go away. It probably just gets worse. I think people should think hard about that.

MLB.com: How confident are you that something will get done?

Bell: It's going to get done. I don't know if it's going to get done this year, but a new park is going to be built. The sooner we can get on with it, the better. Every year it gets more expensive. Every year, it gets to be a bigger a problem for the team.

MLB.com: Refresh memories please about why the Metrodome can't work for the Twins long term.

Bell: The short answer is we can not be competitive in the Dome because of revenue limitations. The big factor involved in that, is the fans' experience attending a ballgame. On nice days, it's just not a place where fans want to go compared to the 16 or 18 other cities in the league that have built places where the ballpark is in fact an entertainment destination. They enjoy going. The second reason is without revenue on par with others in the league, we simply can not be competitive. Every so often, a good general manager like Terry Ryan is going bring a group of young players to the Major Leagues that can be competitive. But that is probably once every eight or 10 years. It takes a lot of time to get them through the system. The trick of course, is keeping the players you want. There is no better example than Montreal. They've brought stars to this game and haven't kept any of them.

MLB.com: Is there a design in place already of what a new ballpark might be like?

Bell: We have an idea, yes, but there is not a specific design. It would be a renaissance-style ballpark. When you look at it, you'll recognize that it's a ballpark.

MLB.com: If there is approval for a ballpark, how long would it take to build?

Bell: Four years. It would take at least a year to get things approved and designed and three years to build it. So, if it's approved in 2004, you're looking at opening in 2008.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This report was not subject to the approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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