Dreams of Field

The Minnesota Twins are convinced the public will eventually buy them a new $300 million stadium. They have reason to believe.

Despite the presence of so many naysayers, the panel quickly came to the conclusion that the Twins were an important asset to the state and that a new stadium was needed to make the franchise viable. Wheelock Whitney, who helped lure the Twins to Minnesota in 1961, was brought in to provide a history lesson to the committee and offered to put up a $100,000 of his own money toward the private stadium effort. Representatives from Cleveland, Denver, and San Francisco were flown in to discuss their own ballpark experiences. Economists laid out the sorry financial disarray of Major League Baseball, in which small-market teams such as the Twins are somehow expected to compete against franchises like the New York Yankees, which has a payroll four times as large. Each meeting was broadcast on television; summaries were posted on the group's Web site, www.newballparkinc.org.

"It was remarkable," gushes Nick Koch, an architect with Hammel, Green and Abrahamson who helped facilitate the meetings. "This process was done publicly, with a spirit of inquiry and with nothing held back. It was a process that was literally led by ideas and principles."

The City of Minneapolis endorsed the C-17 report in March. It then directed staff to look into possible locations for a ballpark. Various city departments graded five different locales on characteristics such as parking availability, mass-transit opportunities, and proximity to entertainment and housing. The decisive winner was the Rapid Park site.

Jesse Yungner

One of the key advantages of the area is its potential access to mass transit. A light-rail stop is slated to be located nearby, as is a North Star commuter station that would eventually provide rail access to St. Cloud. Parking options in the area are abundant, with more than 7,000 spaces located within 15 minutes' walking distance. Rapid Park is also in close proximity to the Warehouse District and its flourishing assortment of bars and restaurants. Another bonus is that the owner, Land-Partners II, Limited Partnership, is interested in having a ballpark built on the lot. The MCDA estimates that it would cost $10.4 million to purchase the land.

On April 6 the Minneapolis City Council, endorsing the Rapid Park location by a 12-0 vote, ordered city staff to brief the Twins by April 20. That introductory meeting was scheduled for April 17. The Twins never showed up.

 

In the 1950s, when local power brokers were looking to transform Minneapolis into a first-tier American city, Metropolitan Stadium was built to lure a Major League Baseball team. The effort was initially aimed at the New York Giants, who had grown frustrated with their archaic home and the Big Apple's over-saturated baseball market, which then featured three teams. After years of teasing, though, Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who also operated the minor league Minneapolis Millers, ultimately opted to light out for San Francisco.

Fifty years later Minnesota baseball fans are once again paying close attention to the Giants franchise. On four different occasions during the Nineties, San Francisco residents went to the polls and voted down public financing for a baseball stadium. The central objection is familiar to anyone who has followed the Twins ballpark debate over the last six years. The citizenry simply didn't want to subsidize a multimillion-dollar corporation or its wealthy owner.

Fed up with its inability to pry money from the taxpayers, the Giants decided to move the team to St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1992. National League owners vetoed the move. After a change of ownership at the end of that year, the Giants had no other option but to build a park with private dollars. It was a novel concept, to say the least.

The last baseball stadium built without the help of taxpayer money was Dodger Stadium in 1962. In the last decade, as new ballparks have popped up all over the country, government has footed, on average, 75 percent of the bill. Most people familiar with the economics of baseball doubted the Giants could afford to build a stadium and support a winning team without getting weighed down by debt.

The financing package the team came up with relied on creativity and a booming economy. More than half of the stadium's $319 million cost was secured via a loan that the team will pay back over 20 years. Another $77 million was acquired by selling 15,000 permanent seat licenses; for a fee of between $1,500 and $6,000, fans essentially purchased the right to future season tickets. Corporate sponsorships accounted for an additional $57 million. The bulk of this came from selling the stadium-naming rights to telecommunications conglomerate Pac Bell, which will shell out $50 million over 24 years.

A small amount of public support was required as well. The City of San Francisco provided $15 million in tax-increment financing for site preparations, such as razing an existing facility and adding a light-rail station.

Pac Bell Park opened in 2000 to rave reviews and packed houses. The ballpark's location, overlooking San Francisco Bay, provides a breathtaking backdrop. When a home run is deposited into the bay, a trained dog dives into the water and retrieves the ball, much to the fans' delight. Every game was sold out last year, and 95 percent of the 30,000 season-ticket holders renewed for the 2001 campaign.

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