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05/11/05 1:43 AM ET

Bill passes first House committee test

New stadium for Twins one step closer to reality

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Twins' ballpark plan took another step forward on Tuesday with its first significant victory on Capitol Hill. The House Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee approved by a vote of 17-5 the bill to authorize Hennepin County to levy a 0.15 percent countywide sales tax to construct a new ballpark.

The bill now advances to the Local Government committee, which could meet to discuss the bill later this week.

The Governmental Operations committee heard nearly two hours of public testimony at Tuesday's hearing, a near carbon copy of the sentiments expressed last Tuesday's meeting of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners that pushed the plan forward to the state legislature. Stadium supporters and opponents each were given a total of one hour to testify, with both groups mostly comprising the same people who spoke out for and against the stadium last week.

Following the public testimony, the committee debated 11 amendments to the bill, passing just three of them. The most significant change adopted -- proposed by former Bloomington mayor Neil Peterson -- addressed the use of any excess revenues collected by Hennepin County. The county commissioners last week agreed to a plan that would put any taxes captured over the minimum required to pay off the stadium bonds into a fund that would support youth athletic groups and libraries throughout the county.

Peterson, citing feedback from his constituents, said he didn't want tax revenue collected in his city to pay for programs in other cities. His amendment requires that all revenues captured from the new sales tax be put toward paying off the bonds in advance of their 30-year window for payment, meaning the tax could be repealed if the debt is retired early.

The meeting began with Rep. Brad Finstad (R-New Ulm), the bill's sponsor in the House, telling committee members that his constituents consistently tell him they want the Legislature to get its work done, and when he asks them what they would prioritize, "Nine times out of 10, they say, 'Build that Twins stadium.'"

Hennepin County Commissioner Randy Johnson discussed the details of the proposed ballpark site, in Minneapolis' historic Warehouse District. He was followed by Twins President Dave St. Peter, who detailed the specifics of the ballpark and how it would improve the overall fan experience. For example, he noted, "the seats at the Metrodome are oriented to the 50-yard line, and I've yet to find one of those on a baseball field."

Jerry Bell, President of Twins Sports, Inc., addressed the committee next, highlighting the Twins' revenue disparity compared to MLB's 29 other teams, and pointing to the relative bargain Twins baseball represents in the Minnesota entertainment community.

"We're talking about affordable family entertainment," Bell said. "Our average ticket price is less than half of the other three professional sports teams in town."

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat chimed in that the ballpark "could be one of the most dynamic destinations in Minnesota and the Midwest."

Bell then fielded questions from committee members and covered such topics as the Twins retaining the naming rights to the ballpark (Bell noted it was part of the negotiations with Hennepin County and made up for other concessions made by the team), the tax-generating potential of the team (the state would collect $10 million annually in ballpark-related sales tax and player income tax, according to Bell), and the value of baseball in a community.

Though economists have cited studies that new sports facilities don't generate economic development in a given region, Bell pointed out, "We haven't predicted any kind of economic benefit to the community in any quantifiable way, but we all know that doesn't pass the common sense test. When I drive by the Xcel Energy Center I see activity there -- and I grew up in St. Paul -- that I've never seen in my life.

"We believe there is an economic impact," Bell said. "We don't have the economic theory to back it, but we have our own two eyes."

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.