Stadium site hearing wraps up; decision on value coming shortlyby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
The month-long condemnation hearing over the Twins ballpark land in downtown Minneapolis has wrapped up, as both sides gave their final pitches to a three-member panel with their estimates of how much the eight-acre site is worth. The panel is expected to deliver its assessment of the fair market price after ground is broken on the stadium next week. However, the process could drag out even longer if Hennepin County decides to appeal the decision.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Attorneys representing the county have tried to show that the landowner's request for $65 million for the eight-acre parcel is based on what they describe as wild speculation and greed.
In his closing argument, attorney Byron Starns wrote down dollar amounts from previous appraisals, or offers, for the same land that are much lower.
In 2000 the site was appraised for roughly $7.7 million. The tax-assessed value of the land in 2007 was $9 million. In 2005 the landowners offered to sell the land to a developer for $21 million. Starns says that offer was rejected.
The landowners have pointed out that in 2004, the city of Minneapolis offered to give the landowners $13 million for the site, plus five acres of nearby land.
But Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat says that deal wasn't far off the county's current offer of $17 million.
"To get to their $65 million, then you have to think that other land -- the five acres -- is worth $52 million," said Opat. "So I think they're grasping at straws and trying to recast their intentions all along."
Also at issue in the hearing has been the condition of the soil which runs underneath the ballpark site. One of the county's appraisals includes a deduction of $20 million for extraordinary soil correction.
A county soil expert testified that because the site is located in an ancient riverbed, it would take a lot of money to secure the foundation of any building there using a system of driven piles.
The expert said that like all other buildings located in the old riverbed, long steel rods need to be driven deep into the ground down to the bedrock to secure the foundation.
But lawyers for the landowners took issue with that point during their closing arguments. They pointed out that their soil expert testified piling to bedrock was not necessary and amounted to overkill.
They also noted that testimony by a county witness placed doubt on the soil correction figure. Earlier this week, the Twins ballpark construction manager testified that piling for the stadium will cost a little over $7 million -- not $20 million as was estimated by the county appraisal.
"I think it was fairly clear that the county's soil reduction was fiction," said landowner Rich Pogin.
Pogin says the soil reduction figure is the major departure from the county's assessment. He says even the county's appraisers agree that a possible highest and best use for the ballpark land is some sort of mixed-use development.
"I think the evidence is pretty convincingly presented, using the county's own appraisals, that the numbers -- the appraisals by the landowners -- are reasonable," said Pogin.
Pogin says the ballpark land has an advantageous location near transit, freeways and parking.
He says the commission should agree with their contention that the site could support a massive mixed-use development consisting of 40-story office and residential towers. That's the hypothetical project the landowners used as a model during the hearing.
But commissioner Mike Opat goes back to the soil cost reduction. He says even though it will take $7 million to drive piles underneath the stadium, it will cost a lot more to drive piles deep enough to support 40-story buildings. And that makes such a development not as feasible.
The commission is expected to return with a decision within the next month.
Opat says even though legal fees have cost county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars so far, the county is ready to take further court action if necessary.
- All Things Considered, 07/25/2007, 5:20 p.m.