County may seek new site for Twins ballparkby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
A stall in negotiations over the site of a proposed Twins ballpark has Hennepin County officials saying they're prepared to look elsewhere. The county and landowners can't agree on a price for the eight-acre parcel in downtown Minneapolis.
But finding a new site raises a new set of challenges. Among other things, it would require more action from a Legislature that isn't eager to revive the stadium debate.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Hennepin County had an appraisal done of the ballpark site which came in at $13.3 million, but the owners of the land say that's too low.
Attorney Daniel Rosen represents Hines International, which owns the largest section of the site. Rosen won't say how much his clients are asking for the land. But he says the county needs to make up its mind if it wants to negotiate, or take the land through eminent domain.
"We've always told the county -- if they want our site, they can have our site. If they want to determine the price of our site through compulsion, through litigation, we're OK with that. If they want to determine the price of our site by voluntary negotiation, we're OK with that. They simply need to choose which path they want to go down," says Rosen.
Last month, a judge gave the county the go-ahead to begin condemnation procedures. Under the procedure, the court turns the land over to the county and a three-member panel determines the value of the land. Once the price is determined, the county is bound to pay that amount -- and that could be much higher than the county's appraisal.
County Commissioner Mike Opat says the county can't go any higher. The county has a set amount -- $90 million -- to spend on land and infrastructure. Opat says that infrastucture -- the things that will make the stadium accessible to pedestrians, drivers and commuters -- will eat up most of that budget.
"We know that a bridge to get up to the level of the concourse from 7th Street and such, those are expensive -- in the tens of millions of dollars. Building a building, for instance, so you can get from Northstar Commuter Rail to the Hiawatha extension is another $5 million to $10 million-dollar item," Opat says. "We know cleaning up the land is in the millions of dollars. We know that negotiations over air rights with Burlington Northern will be in the millions of dollars."
The Minnesota Twins have agreed to pay $125 million for construction, and for any cost overruns associated with building the ballpark itself. The Twins are not obligated to pay for any of the infrastructure or land costs. But Opat says the county is talking with the Twins about pitching in more money.
Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc., the company that owns the team, says the team hasn't made any commitments to the county for additional funds. And he thinks the county probably has enough money to pay for the land. Bell is also concerned that negotiations have stalled.
"We were under the understanding that the $90 million that the county asked for, and that the Legislature approved, was sufficient to do everything that needed to be done," says Bell.
Bell says the team doesn't have a position on the prospect of switching stadium sites. But he says the team would have to sign off on an alternative site.
Commissioner Mike Opat says the team and the county are still focused on the downtown site. But if there were a change, Opat says the county would have to go back to the Legislature to alter the parts of the ballpark legislation that refer to the downtown site.
"That's not a big change. And that doesn't require a multitude of committees, we don't think. But nonetheless, it's still not to be taken lightly," Opat says. "We would still have to get a law changed. We've talked to legislative leaders and they understand we might come to that point. We hope we won't, but we may."
Reaction from legislators has been mixed. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark says it all depends on the extent of any proposed changes.
"If it's a matter of them moving locations, I think if we technically need to do something, we'll look at the technical aspects," says Clark. "I'm certainly not hearing anyone suggesting they're going to come back looking for another deal. If they want a different deal, that could be another matter."
If Clark isn't overly concerned, other legislators have expressed frustration they may need to spend more time revisiting the stadium issue.
Site preparation for the stadium is supposed to start next month. But it can't go ahead until Hennepin County has taken possession of the land.
- All Things Considered, 02/09/2007, 5:15 p.m.