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04/26/07 8:33 PM ET
Authority clears way for construction
Diverse group gives unanimous approval to proposals
By John Gilbert / Special to MLB.com
What kind of day was it Thursday for the Minnesota Twins? Well, if it was hockey, it would have been a hat trick. First, on Thursday morning, the Twins got approval of a 400-page listing of all plans for their proposed new stadium by a Hennepin County Board vote, then the scene shifted to the Metrodome, where the newly formed Minnesota Ballpark Authority met in the Halsey Hall Room just as the Twins were headed for the 10th inning, locked in a scoreless afternoon ballgame with the Kansas City Royals. The Authority is a diverse group, representing the Twins, the county, the public, and the contractors. As such, they represent the public as a subdivision of the State of Minnesota government. And, since public taxes will account for two-thirds of the financing of the new open-air ballpark, the Authority -- as the public -- will ultimately be the owners of the stadium. Their task Thursday was to vote on a series of proposals linking various elements of the involved parties in a course of action for the construction. No extra innings were needed for that vote, as every proposal met with unanimous approval. No surprises. "But you never can take anything for granted," said Twins president Dave St. Peter. "This has been a collaborative operation from the start, with a common vision of a world class ballpark. This assures the framework that will result in our being able to do that." By then, somebody had turned on the television monitor in the corner of Halsey Hall Room, just in time to watch the bottom of the 11th, when Mike Redmond delivered the third straight single to win the game for the Twins, 1-0, ending a four-game losing streak. A hat trick -- two victories in the boardroom, and one on the field. Jerry Bell, the president of Twins Sports, Inc., has been the point man for 10 years in the team's quest to manipulate and maneuver various stadium proposals until one found approval within the public and government scrutiny. "This is very significant," said Bell. "It's the last required action before we can get going. Well, almost. The only other little detail is an agreement with Burlington Northern, and we pretty well reached agreement last Saturday, so I think we'll finalize that in a matter of days." Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad have rights to part of the land and have tracks on the site, which is located about a block west of Target Center on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. When that agreement is achieved, the county can execute its quick-take plan to secure the site, and clearing and construction can begin. Bell acknowledged that the County Commissioners had some lively debate, and close 4-3 votes because three of the commissioners are against the public subsidy being two-thirds of the cost. "Those opposed to it gave their side very well, and there are philosophical differences," Bell said. "But when they had the opportunity, even those opposed had to compliment what we've done and how we're doing it. When the opposition compliments you, I think it shows we're on the right track." Steve Cramer, chairman of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, directed the group's legal advisors to spell out the various proposals they'd be voting on. There was the development agreement, among the team, the county and the Authority for the roadmap of the whole plan; the grant agreement, describing the county obligations with the Authority; the playing and use agreement, binding the team to the Authority's new stadium for 30 years; the ballpark lease agreement, by which the Authority leases the stadium to the team for use and operation; the team and trustee agreement to cover funding for construction and infrastructure between the team and the Authority; and the disbursement agreement, which pledges funds to the Authority via a trustee institution still to be named. The vote approving the six separate proposals took far less time than their description, which obviously had been closely scrutinized already by the seven Authority members. "It's taken a lot of work, and plenty of preparation," said Cramer, who is executive director of a company involved with creating affordable housing, and is chairing the Authority as a volunteer. "Next for us will be overseeing the construction project and helping manage everything -- that will be our job the next two years, Bell said he feels definite relief after the ballpark got clear-cut "go" verdicts both from the Hennepin County Commissioners and the Minnesota Ballpark Authority. He agreed with the analogy of his 10-year effort with a sprinter, who must successfully jump over numerous hurdles before sprinting toward the finish line. Thursday's votes -- and the upcoming completion of an agreement with the railroad -- will comprise the final hurdles and clear the way to the finish line. "I won't relax until I see construction workers on the site," said Bell. When asked if he's been fitted for a hard hat yet, Bell said, "I'm sure gonna get one."
John Gilbert is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.