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Thursday, July 11
Talks broken off for new Twins' stadium

ST. PAUL -- The drive to build a new Minnesota Twins ballpark in St. Paul is all but dead after both Mayor Randy Kelly and Twins president Jerry Bell said they doubted a deal could come together in time for a required referendum.

The sides broke off talks Thursday when it became clear Twins owner Carl Pohlad wouldn't grant Kelly's wish for a binding agreement to move the team if city voters approved higher hospitality taxes to help fund a stadium.

"Unless the Twins have a change of heart, it is very unlikely'' a referendum will be held, Kelly said.

Kelly said the Twins have until next Wednesday to change their minds. But Dan Bostrom, president of the City Council, said, "Nobody is holding their breath.''

Bell added, "Never say never, but it's highly unlikely.''

"It's disappointing,'' he said. "This is as close as we've ever been.''

Bell said he advised Pohlad against the deal because there were too many uncertainties, including Pohlad's own desire to sell his team and the lack of a firm cost estimate for construction and infrastructure.

The Twins are eager to build a new ballpark, saying the Metrodome doesn't provide enough revenue. For seven years, they've asked state and local governments to help with funds or access to financing. After major league owners threatened to close the team, legislators this spring agreed the state should help finance a $330 million stadium.

But Pohlad was unwilling to agree to help finance a ballpark himself nor to tie the hands of a new owner, both sides said. Kelly and Bostrom said it would be irresponsible to hold a referendum without a binding agreement.

St. Paul was the only city actively courting the Twins, and had three potential sites. Minneapolis leaders shelved their bid when a stadium financing bill passed by the Legislature this spring prohibited counties from helping out.

A city can't raise its bar and restaurant taxes to fund a stadium without the referendum, which by law must occur before Sept. 30. Without the local aid, private sources would have to shoulder the entire cost. Under local ordinances, St. Paul leaders need to decide by next week whether to put it on the ballot in September.

The lack of a referendum could throw the ballpark issue back before the Legislature in the 2003 session. Bell said he isn't certain the team will even return to the Capitol if Pohlad is still in control.

"The current owner's first, second and third priorities are to sell the team,'' Bell said.

If the Twins do return to the Capitol next year, their prospects are shaky.

Not only will Minnesota have a new governor, but at least 50 new faces are expected in the 201-person Legislature due to retirements and redistricting.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum said many legislators saw the current deal as "prudent and reasonable'' because the state merely acted as a financier by issuing $330 million in bonds for the ballpark. It will be hard for the state to do more, he said.

The leading candidates for governor have said they would be open to removing the ban on county participation. But resistance to county involvement was strong in the GOP-controlled House and especially among legislators from suburban Hennepin County who didn't want their constituents taxed for a new ballpark in that county's biggest city, Minneapolis.

Kelly, who was a state senator before becoming mayor, said the Twins are letting a golden opportunity pass.

"It would be very speculative, very high risk to believe a better deal would be struck next year in the Legislature,'' he said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat, who want the issue revisited by state lawmakers, were unavailable for comment.

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