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02/10/07 12:41 PM ET

Site dispute has Twins stadium unclear

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins have been planning to publicize detailed designs of their new ballpark next week and break ground next month.

Now, they're not sure, which is currently the theme surrounding all parties in this increasingly contentious and complicated process that now includes uncertainty about when and where the ballpark will actually be built.

"Understanding the history of this topic in terms of our decade-long struggle for a ballpark, nobody with the Twins ever believed this process would be easy," team president Dave St. Peter said Friday.

Here's the problem: Hennepin County, the club's financial partner, does not yet own the land on which the 40,000-seat stadium is supposed to be constructed to open in the spring of 2010. The state legislation that was passed last May did not spell out a guideline for agreement on a purchase price.

The owners, a limited liability partnership of more than 100 private investors, are arguing that the county is not cooperating.

The county and the team are arguing that the owners are not cooperating.

County consumers? They have no choice but to cooperate, because they began paying an extra 0.15 percent sales tax on New Year's Day toward the public's contribution to the estimated $522 million project. The Twins have pledged $130 million.

"Let's just admit that it doesn't work and that we don't have a relationship and stop calling each other names," said Rich Pogin, who represents Land Partners II, one of the owners.

On Jan. 22, a Hennepin County District judge ruled that the stadium served a "public purpose" under the law and authorized possible condemnation of property on the site.

Because the Legislature capped infrastructure costs at $90 million -- an arbitrary decision, according to the team -- the county is wary of paying too much for the land and leaving little money for road, transit and other improvements around the ballpark. After all it took to reach this point, nobody wants to build the stadium on the cheap, and the 10-acre site that was chosen just west of Target Center on the edge of downtown is a tight parcel of land that brings extra construction and design challenges.

The county appraised the value of the land at $13.35 million, but project leaders are hesitant to put faith in the eminent domain process because it could take too long or produce a ruling that the property is worth more money than the county has available under the $90 million cap.

"I understand their problem. The legislation doesn't work, and in the political world of today, people don't get up and say we made a mistake," Pogin said.

The owners have agreed not to contest the eminent domain procedure, and they're arguing that because of the county's spending cap the negotiation process is fundamentally flawed. Pogin said his group proposed a lease of the land as an alternative, but that didn't go anywhere.

"If you've got a real limited amount to spend, there really isn't much to negotiate over," he said.

County commissioner Mike Opat didn't return phone calls Friday, but he and his colleagues said this week they have begun to consider other sites. In that case, they'd have to go back to the Capitol and seek an amendment. Rep. Brad Finstad, R-New Ulm, the chief House author of bill, told the Star Tribune for an article published Friday that he would "have a hard time seeing any appetite for this again."

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said Friday that lawmakers would be open to technical adjustments in last year's stadium law, but reopening the whole stadium funding package would be a different question.

"The important thing is we want to stay on schedule," Clark said.

St. Peter said the team would decide early next week about whether to proceed with the unveiling of the design. He said the Twins are still "very hopeful" they'll keep the same site.

"We tend to believe this is part of the process. The county is frustrated. We're frustrated. It's our hope that realism would set in with the landowners and we'll be able to move forward," St. Peter said.

The owners, of course, are saying the same thing about the other side.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.