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Twins optimistic about new ballpark
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12/10/2003 4:41 PM ET
Twins optimistic about new ballpark
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ST. PAUL -- When Governor Tim Pawlenty announced in early November that he was assembling a stadium screening committee, it set in motion the latest chapter in the search for a ballpark solution in Minnesota.

Whether the outcome of this ballpark push will succeed where others have failed remains to be seen. But in the early stages of the process, the Twins front office senses more optimism than ever before.

"The expectations for success are far greater than they've been in the past 10 years," said Twins Sports Inc. president Jerry Bell, who is spearheading the franchise's ballpark efforts.

Pawlenty wants the committee to hear proposals and options from area leaders in government and business, plus local citizens, developers and the ownership of the Twins and the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, who are seeking a football-only stadium.

The stadium panel held its first meeting Tuesday at the State Capitol and was charged with its five duties to discuss.

  • Strategy and sequence: Should a baseball and football stadium be part of one legislative bill or part of separate bills and done in phases?

  • The location: Should the committee recommendations be site specific and what is the site selection methodology?

  • Financing: How will the ballparks be funded and paid for? What will be the public's financial responsibility?

  • Who would own any new sports facilities? Would it be the team, the host city or another group?

  • Who would govern and have control of the stadiums?

    "Our job is to give advice to the governor," committee chairman Dan McElroy told the 20-member screening committee. "The governor refers to professional sports as an important amenity to Minnesota. Amenities help the state compete."

    Much of the first meeting was dedicated to a historical overview of stadium initiatives in Minnesota. Some of the recent successes were the openings of the Target Center for the NBA's Timberwolves in 1990 and the Xcel Energy Center for the NHL's Wild in 2000. There was also the building of the Metrodome, which opened in 1982 and became the last of the multipurpose stadiums constructed.

    The failure to replace the Metrodome was also highlighted in testimonies, including unsuccessful efforts in 1997 and 2002. Bell believes the environment is different now than it was in the past.

    "The governor has been vocal in his past comments that it's a quality of life issue and that this needs to get done," Bell said. "In the past four or five years, we didn't have that.

    "It's not should we build a park? Instead, it's how do we build a park? That's a significant difference."

    During the committee meeting, a report was cited from the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City that said there have been 44 major stadium deals in this country over the past 10 years. The report noted that places like Baltimore's Camden Yards, Denver's Coors Field and Chicago's United Center have changed the philosophy of stadium designs where the facility is part of the overall experience and the best way to maximize revenues.

    Club officials have long stressed that the Twins also need a new home to take advantage of those opportunities.

    "It's been well documented that it's essential not only to the long-term survival of the franchise but also for us to remain competitive," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. "Everyone from the fans, the players and management, has the expectation to put a contending team on the field."

    Some clubs have moved into new stadiums and have become or remain uncompetitive. The Tigers and Brewers are two teams going through tough times with dwindling attendance at their new parks. But those clubs were struggling before the new parks were built, while the Twins have been successful in recent years, winning back-to-back AL Central titles in 2002-03. The club believes a new park would enable it to remain competitive by generating the dollars needed to retain players once they become successful and eligible for arbitration and free agency.

    "Nothing replaces the fundamentals, scouting and development and bringing players along," Bell said. "Not a ballpark, or anything else can change that. You have to pay attention. We will continue to make scouting and development of talent a priority. What a new ballpark and its revenues does is allow us to keep that talent here after it's been developed."

    The Twins will make their presentation to the committee during the Jan. 6 session. It is expected that Bell and the club will make the case for a baseball-only, retractable-roof ballpark. Artist's renderings and video of the proposed stadium design will be shown at that meeting.

    The Stadium Screening Committee will be moving quickly, working through December and accepting any ballpark suggestions until Jan. 15, 2004. Final recommendations will be sent to Gov. Pawlenty's desk on Feb. 2.

    "This is something of a whirlwind process," said McElroy, who is also the state's finance commissioner. "We have important work to do."

    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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