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04/17/06 1:16 AM ET

Next chapter to begin in ballpark saga

Tax committee on hand for public hearings on Twins ballpark

MINNEAPOLIS -- The latest chapter in the Twins' ever-growing saga to get a new ballpark will arrive this week.

Key legislative members of the tax committee will be on hand for two days of public hearings to address the question of whether Hennepin County voters should vote on a tax increase to help fund a new ballpark that the team feels it needs.

"This ballpark debate has been going on for ten-plus years, and this next week arguably is the most important week of any week during that ten-year stretch," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. "The chairman of the House Tax Committee will make sure these are fair and balanced hearings, so that means there will be many opponents out to testify.

"Over the last decade, a lot of Twins fans have asked 'What can we do to show our support?' What they can do this week is to call or e-mail their legislators, or more importantly, come out to these hearings."

Getting the committee's approval is critical to getting the tax plan passed for the new proposed ballpark. The focus of the hearings is to decide whether the plan should be exempted from a state law requiring a voters referendum on tax hikes like the one that Hennepin County wants to levy -- a 0.15 percent county sales tax, or 3 cents on a $20 purchase -- as part of its effort to help fund a new stadium.

The tax raise is just one part of a proposal to fund a 42,000-seat open-air ballpark in Minneapolis' Warehouse district. The project is estimated right now to cost about $522 million, but no state money would be used to fund the project.

The Twins organization and others who support a new ballpark are trying to avoid having the referendum come to pass due to the delays it would cause, including a rise in expected costs for the project. This comes after the plan has already been delayed once by the legislative process, resulting in a $44 million increase in the price tag.

But other groups, such as Citizens for a Stadium Tax Referendum, say that voters should get a chance to voice their opinions.

Knowing the amount of opposition that could be present this week at the hearings, St. Peter sent out an e-mail to Twins season-ticket holders, encouraging them to attend the hearings, especially Thursday's, dressed in the team colors. He feels that it is absolutely necessary that the team be well-represented due to the important nature of these hearings.

"We feel there is more support for this plan than ever before," St. Peter said. "That being said, there will be challenges along the way. One of the challenges is the House Tax Committee, and clearly passing through that committee is absolutely essential for our long-term success. So this week is very important for us."

The two key public hearings that are slated to be held on the Twins ballpark issue this week:

• 3 p.m. CT Wednesday at the Capitol, St. Paul.

• 6 p.m. CT Thursday at Oak Grove Middle School, Bloomington.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.