Twins ballpark construction ready to begin; Vikings waiting for their turnby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Construction on the new Minnesota Twins ballpark begins next week, when crews will begin ripping up asphalt from the old Rapid Park site in downtown Minneapolis. The Twins are scheduled to move into their new home in 2010, leaving the Metrodome behind.
Minneapolis, Minn. — By this time next week, the asphalt parking lot that makes up most of the stadium site will be full of backhoes and dump trucks. They will begin tearing away the surface of the parking lot and removing a layer of dirt, to prepare the ground for construction that will begin in August.
"Thanks for being here. Quite honestly I can't believe we're here. But we are," laughed Twins Sports Inc. president Jerry Bell.
Bell was standing at the approximate site of home plate, with a white construction helmet perched on his head. The team had set out bases to illustrate the orientation of the playing field. About 300 feet from Bell are bright pink markers representing where the right field and left field foul poles will be.
Bell says he'll be even happier once the ground is broken, but he's still glad to be at this point.
"That's right. We're not at a meeting. We're not having a vote either. We're going to begin clearing this land," Bell said, to begin construction on a stadium the team has sought for the past decade.
Bell and the Twins were regulars at the Capitol over the past 10 years, as they sought public funding for a new stadium. What finally did it for the team was its partnership with Hennepin County.
The county offered to levy a countywide sales tax to pay for the majority of the funding. And while the plan was controversial because it required no voter referendum, enough state legislators and the governor were willing to make it happen.
The second of the three major tenants at the Metrodome, the University of Minnesota Gophers football team, will also have a new stadium in the next few years, leaving the Vikings as the sole dome tenant.
Both the Vikings and the owners of the Metrodome are looking for public help for a new home for the team, and they say time's running out.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is interested in tearing down the dome and building a new $954 million stadium with a retractable roof.
Team counsel Lester Bagley says Wilf is prepared to contribute several hundred million dollars to build the stadium, plus invest another $1 billion in a redevelopment plan that would include shops, hotels and office space near the stadium site.
But stadium construction could take several years, and the team's lease agreement with the Metrodome expires in 2011. Bagley says inflation complicates the deal.
"Every year we delay, it costs $40 million to $50 million on top of the already astronomical price," Bagley said. "So there's an urgency in terms of cost and the construction timeline, based on the expiration of our lease."
The Vikings' landlord, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, is leading the charge at the Capitol for public funding for a new multi-purpose stadium. The commission recently endorsed Wilf's redevelopment plan, saying that it would have a positive impact on the east downtown section of the city.
Commission Chair Roy Terwilliger, a former state senator, will be back at the Capitol Wednesday to present a Metrodome site wish list to the House Taxes committee.
Terwilliger says he wants legislators to understand the urgency of the situation for the Vikings. He also wants them to see the benefits of having such a facility.
"We believe ... the plan we have in place is exciting, that it will provide a venue -- a multipurpose public venue --- for all types of events," said Terwilliger, "whether it be the state high school playoffs or Billy Graham Crusade or Promise Keepers or Hmong New Year or the Minnesota Vikings."
Terwilliger says the purpose of his appearance at the Capitol is not to ask legislators for a specific amount of money. The commission and the Vikings will save those requests for the session in 2008, when the Twins play their next to last season at the Metrodome.
- All Things Considered, 05/15/2007, 5:44 p.m.