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May 24, 2001

The Imbalance Sheet

Stadium Referendums in Minnesota

by Keith Law

Sometimes, readers make this job much easier. Here's an email from Cris Enestvedt, regarding the stadium situation in Minnesota.

You should be covering the MN situation if you're into seeing owners get stiff-armed. A few years ago a referendum in St Paul went down 58% to 42%, but in this session a couple of new efforts have risen from the ashes.

The first was for a $300-$350MM stadium with $100MM in state loans (paid back in user fees), $40-$50MM from the host city/county and the balance from Pohlad plus responsibility for all overruns staying with the team - and a sales tax free zone around the stadium to keep costs down. All of this is contingent on "substantial reform in baseball economics that enables small market teams to compete" or words to that effect, and they proposed a panel of three retired judges to decide if enough reforms had occurred by some date. So in summary: an interest free loan plus some coin from the local government, which was expected to come in the form of land and infrastructure. OK, no good, and it died in committee.

The latest one appearing [the week of May 7th] has no loan, no sales tax zone and no user fees, but the state would issue $140MM in bonds, payable by the team. Depending on which version passes, the team will pay for 97% or 83% of the park. Oh, and Gov. White Trash will replace the retired judges in determining if baseball has made substantial enough changes. Twins spokesman Jerry Bell told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that it was "doubtful" that the team would support that version of the bill.

And as a fine parallel to this story, the Vikings have been trying to get their own stadium built on the public dime and are being stonewalled by everyone. They even tried dragging the University of Minnesota in and sharing the place with them, but the Gophers want nothing to do with it. The proposal is dead and rumors are that Red McCombs is giving real thought to Los Angeles. The stadium commission has a robustly drawn up contract locking them into the Dome for another dozen years (requiring them to perform their games at the facility, not just pay rent). Also from today's St Paul PP: "If the NFL switches the Vikings to the NFC West at league meetings in Chicago in two weeks, it could be an indicator that league officials figure the team isn't long for Minnesota. Remaining in the NFC Central would indicate the league doesn't believe Vikings owner Red McCombs would be able to move the team to Los Angeles in the near future."

Anyway, MN is still the place to be for stadium ploys to go awry. Keep an eye on us in the next couple of weeks to see how this plays out.

We will, Cris. Adding to the complexity of the current situation in Minnesota is the fact that the team is doing well - not just on the field, but also at the gate. The Twins drew about 27,000 fans for their matinee against Seattle on Wednesday of this week, one day after 29,000 watched the Twins knock off the team with the best record in baseball on a Tuesday night. My BP colleague Derek Zumsteg pointed out that "that's only 4,000 less than saw the Diamondbacks-Giants game in BOB, and only 2,000 less than saw the Astros-Padres game in Enron." The Twins' claims that they can't compete without a new stadium were obviously fraudulent before this year, but it appears that the baseball gods would like to make that point a little clearer.

Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.

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