Stalled stadium negotiations could cause expensive delaysby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Stalled negotiations between Hennepin County and the owners of the Twins ballpark site continue to cause backups in other phases of the project. The Twins have postponed the unveiling of the stadium design. Initial site preparation has been put on hold. And Friday afternoon, officials working on the project told members of the Ballpark Authority that if the county doesn't acquire the eight-acre site soon, these delays could become expensive.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The Ballpark Authority met for the first time since a snag in land talks led the county's lead negotiator to publicly threaten to move the stadium to a different site.
The authority is a five-member public body that was created to oversee the construction of, and eventually own, the new Twins ballpark. Authority Executive Director Dan Kenney says the panel continues its work despite the impasse.
"The work with the implementation committee continues. They've made a lot of good progress related to the alignment of the Cedar Lake Bike Trail, the design of the LRT stop along 5th St., and also a mitigation plan for the partial closure of 3rd Ave. up to 7th St," said Kenney. "So we've made a lot of progress with those design elements."
However, some Ballpark Authority commissioners wanted to know how the delays in land acquisition will affect the construction deadlines and the projected completion date of spring 2010.
Project officials say there are three critical tasks that need to stay on time.
The first is to start tearing up the asphalt parking lot that covers most of the site, and digging up the utility lines that run through there. That work was originally scheduled to start in mid-March. County officials say that work is now on hold.
The second is to start driving the massive piles into the earth that will anchor the structure. That work is scheduled to start sometime in August.
The third is to make sure that work to realign nearby railroad tracks is completed by December, so construction near or above those tracks can happen.
Dan Mehls is with Mortenson Construction, the general contractor for the project. He says he's concerned about the delay in starting the site preparation.
Mehls says site prep involves moving about 200,000 cubic yards of soil, some of which is contaminated with mercury and will require special handling. Mehls says if the delay goes on much longer, site prep will have to be compressed in order to keep up with the other deadlines.
"There are ways to resolve that. One is to bring more equipment on. To work overtime. To put more resources at it. With that comes additional costs," said Mehls. "We're in a situation where the overall schedule is not yet impacted, but we are going to be incurring additional costs on the site prep package in order to be able to preserve our August start of construction of the ballpark."
Mehls says a delay of a week may cost an extra couple thousand of dollars. A delay of a month, says Mehls, will run in to the tens of thousands. And that money comes out of the county's $90 million infrastructure budget.
Right now, the bids for site preparation have not gone out. Ed Hunter, manager of the ballpark construction project, says they've had to push back the release date. However, Hunter says the delay is not all bad.
"We're able to take advantage of small breathers like this to further refine the design," said Hunter. "To sharpen the pencil in terms of cost estimates and things of that nature. So, it's certainly not cause, from a staff level, to despair."
The county can still acquire the land and stay on schedule through a "quick-take" procedure using eminent domain. That involves making a deposit of more than $13 million with the court. The court would then give the land to the county.
However, the county would still have to pay a higher price for the land if a three-person panel determined its worth to be higher.
County officials say they prefer to forgo condemnation and work out a negotiated land price. But they aren't talking with landowners right now.
The county's lead negotiator, Mike Opat, says the county has the option to change sites. However project manager Ed Hunter and others say that will surely mean that a Twins stadium would not be built in time for opening day in 2010.