'Unremarkable parking lot' begins transformation to new stadiumby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
The Minnesota Twins officially broke ground at the site of their new open-air ballpark in downtown Minneapolis Thursday night. There is still strong opposition to the way the ballpark construction is being funded. And there is likely to be more legal wrangling to determine how much the land underneath the stadium will cost. However, the groundbreaking signaled that after a series of fits and starts, the ballpark will be built in time for the 2010 season.
Minneapolis — Three years from now, Cuzzy's Bar will likely be a gathering spot for Twins fans before they walk several blocks to the stadium for a ballgame.
On this night, several folks who'll likely be among that crowd are hanging out before they head down to the ballpark site for the groundbreaking.
Julian Loscalzo is chewing on a cigar the size of a souveneir bat, and occasionally curses like a bullpen coach. He and his buddies are out on the back deck of the bar, enjoying a cocktail before the ceremony.
Loscalzo has brought along a homemade banner, not unlike a sign a Twins fan would bring to a game. But instead of "Mauer rules" or "Marry Me Justin Morneau," Loscalzo's banner reads, "Save the Met."
As in the old Met Stadium in Bloomington.
Loscalzo and his crew say the Twins were wrong to move indoors into the Metrodome 26 years ago. And today they're back to make a point.
"Ain't no ifs, ands or buts about it. We were right a long time ago," Loscalzo says with a laugh. "So we just like to remind all those famous people that we were right about 30 years ago."
Since the Met was torn down, Loscalzo's been leading bus tours to open-air baseball stadiums around the country. Loscalzo loves outdoor baseball. And he's glad it will be back in Minnesota.
But Loscalzo believes the Twins' return to natural grass is not necessarily for the benefit of people like him.
"They don't probably really care about outdoor baseball. They want a new ballpark with new revenue streams. I paid $7.50 for a 16 oz. beer in St. Louis last week. So it's the business," Loscalzo says. "But for those of us who love the game, it's back to the way it should be played."
Over at the construction site, the Twins set up a stage right behind a makeshift infield complete with real grass. A few hundred fans and onlookers are walking around with beers, snacks and team merchandise.
On the stage, an impressive roster of current and former Twins players sit alongside local elected officials, including Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat.
"Today we celebrate the start of construction," Opatz says. "In April of 2010, this rather unremarkable parking lot is going to be transformed into a great urban ballpark, and I can hardly wait."
Opat and other county officials are still in a squabble with the former owners of the "unremarkable parking lot" over how much it will cost county taxpayers.
A condemnation panel recently valued the eight-acre parcel at around $23.8 million. But the county had set aside $23 million of its $90 million infrastructure budget to pay for land. And that was supposed to include the money it would take to pay for easements and air rights to the state, and Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad.
Opat has hinted that the county may opt to appeal the condemnation award in an attempt to get a more favorable figure. But the county is already on the hook for not only its own legal fees, but that of the former landowners. Estimates put that at around $3 million.
That's a fact not lost on Kevin Smith. He opposes the countywide sales tax which is paying for the majority of the $500 million stadium.
"I'm not a rich guy, but I'll take $200 out tonight to pay for the stadium. And all I want is a little brick this big to put in some restroom somewhere," says Smith. "There's tens of thousands of Minnesotans who'll do the same thing. Don't tell me that we can't fund this thing any better."
In this crowd, Smith is apparently in the minority. Most cheer the politicians responsible for passing the tax when they are introduced. They are even a little forgiving of team owner Carl Pohlad, who threatened to move the team years ago unless taxpayers helped pay for a new stadium.
In contrast, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's intro drew a smattering of boos. Apparently fans are still aore at the commissioner after he tried to have the Twins contracted from the league in 2002.
- Morning Edition, 08/31/2007, 7:25 a.m.