Inside Pitches

A COUPLE OF months into the political wrangling over a new outdoor Twins stadium, all the baseball metaphors have been used up--which may be just as well, since the current phase bears more resemblance to a fishing expedition. With an estimated 60 to 80 percent of the state opposed to public financing of a new baseball stadium, the Twins and their allies now seem to be trying to set a hook in city government by getting the Minneapolis City Council on the record supporting a stadium in some fashion.

The council is supposed to meet this week to decide where it would prefer a new stadium be built. The vote, scheduled to occur 24 hours after council members get their first look at the proposed stadium sites, may have little to do with site selection per se. At this point the council hasn't yet decided it supports a new stadium, much less one paid for by public funds. But having council members on record supporting anything, even a hypothetical site, would give stadium backers a badly needed boost, say city officials and state lawmakers opposed to the project.

If the mayor and council go on record as favoring any particular site, the critics note, it will be easier for Gov. Arne Carlson and Twins owner Carl Pohlad to convince the state Legislature that Minneapolis wants the ballpark. "I think it's clear it's a ploy to get something on the record now," says Sixth Ward council member Jim Niland. "The same tactic was used all the time on the old stadium--the Target Center. It's the first step down a slippery slope.

"Why are we rushing ahead, taking the next step when we haven't decided that a new stadium is what we need? That's what they want to set in motion--a sense of inevitability."

During the debate over the city's bailout of the Target Center, Niland recalls, a favorable nonbinding city resolution was used in the Legislature as evidence that the city, which was still divided, wanted to take over the arena.

Planners are expected to present the council with a dozen possible Minneapolis locations for the $300 million stadium on December 12.
If stadium proponents--most
notably Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and Council President Jackie Cherryhomes--have their way, the council will vote on the site selection the following day.

"It's a gun-to-the-head ploy," claims Niland. "Give people inadequate information and try to rush them into a decision."

Pushing the council to appear signed onto the project is only one prong in the Twins's multitentacled effort to sell the public on the new facility. Both the team and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission have hired teams of lobbyists who are already wooing Minnesota lawmakers.

The Rev. Ricky Rask of Kids First, a group that opposes using public funds to build a new stadium, has complained about the MSFC's use of city taxpayers' money to lobby the state for stadium funds. She and other stadium foes argue that buying a state-of-the-art ballpark for the Twins is corporate welfare.

Indeed, that belief appears so widespread that Twins officials have begun pitching the proposal as something Twin Cities residents should do for themselves. Before the MSFC hearing last week, Twins President Jerry Bell unveiled the club's new line: "The high-profile star players don't need a stadium," he told the commissioners. "They'll just play somewhere else. The Pohlads don't need a new stadium.

"The Twins," Bell continued, "need a new stadium."

The whole stadium question is such a political hot potato that city officials refused to discuss it before the recent elections, leaving just a few weeks to debate the issue before the Legislature convenes its 1997 session on January 7.

The race to get something on the table before the statehouse is back in session has also squeezed public input out of the process, which critics charge is another tactic in the PR blitz. And members of the MSFC say they're planning to schedule time to hear from concerned voters, who they've already dismissively dubbed "the antis," after they've finished hearing from the other teams that use the Metrodome.

City Council members, meanwhile, say they plan to hear public comments during their December 12 meeting. It remains to be seen whether the council members, all of whom face re-election next year, are prepared to stand accused of losing the Twins.

 
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