By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Ah, yes, the land. Groundbreaking for the stadium is slated to begin in March 2007, just a few weeks from now, but the county has not yet acquired the land where it will be built. And its owners seem nowhere near reaching an agreement to sell it.
Rich Pogin, the spokesperson for the three private companies that represent some 150 shareholders in the land, says the main issue is that the county has never dealt with him or his company, Land Partners II, squarely. He is resigned to the fact that the county will eventually get the land through eminent domain proceedings, but he's upset about what he deems bad-faith negotiations by the county. Further, he claims, he and his main public partner, Bruce Lambrecht, are being unfairly painted as greedy developers who want to derail the deal—even after they lobbied lawmakers at the Capitol to consider their site for a stadium in the first place.
"I've always been a believer that keeping the Twins, and building this stadium here was the right thing to do, with an impact on the city's economics that would be phenomenal," Pogin says, before adding: "If it ever happens."
Even Mike Opat, the Hennepin County commissioner who has been the main architect of the ballpark plan for two years, admits that things are messy. "The metaphor I can come up with is that there's a swan swimming on the surface, silent, not making a wake, but there's a whole lot of paddling beneath the surface," Opat says, pointing out "complicated" negotiations with the county and the team, the Ballpark Authority and the team, and the like. "But all negotiations, with the exception of Land Partners, have been productive."
To further muck up matters, the ballpark bill explicitly says that the county can't spend more than $90 million for land acquisition, site remediation, and infrastructure. Though he refuses to break down the various costs, Opat says it's vital that the county avoid overpaying for the land. "And if we can't get a price that's acceptable to the county," Opat concludes, "we might have to walk away."
More than 20 years ago, Rich Pogin and Bruce Lambrecht, along with some 100 investors, began buying up vacant lots and other properties northwest of the Warehouse District. The idea then, Pogin says, was that there would be a huge explosion in residential housing downtown, and the duo eventually bought eight parcels of land, assessed by 2006 county tax records at $20.25 million, through their three companies—Land Partners II, Minikahda Mini Storage LTD, and Duddy Limited Partnership, which fall under the umbrella of Investment Management Inc.
The two certainly possessed some insight, as nobody thought much about the mostly industrial parcels in the neighborhood called the North Loop. A wave of revitalization was just hitting the Warehouse District, the Target Center and adjoining parking ramps loomed on the horizon, and I-394 hadn't been built yet to move people quickly in and out of downtown. In time, though, the neighborhood caught up with their plans.
"Bruce brought me down here in 1999 and parked his car and said, 'You know, we've got at least 500 million bucks of infrastructure here. We've got the roads, we've got parking, we've got the rail coming in. It's kind of a plug-and-play deal,'" Pogin recalls his partner saying. "And I said, 'This is a real bad idea. It will cost a whole bunch of money, it will never go through, and all you're buying is an eminent domain action.'"
But within a few years, Lambrecht seemed visionary. For all of the stadium sites that were in play for the Twins over the years, the team was suddenly, by late 2003, zeroing in on one site, the parking lot Land Partners II owned, bounded by Third Avenue North and Seventh and Fifth streets—the area that lies between Target Center and the Hennepin County garbage burner. Mike Opat, the county commissioner, had convinced the team that the best way to curry favor at the Legislature was to quit pitting sites and cities against each other and just focus on one.
By February 2004, the city of Minneapolis had approved potential sale of the Rapid Park site for a potential Twins stadium, and the county and Land Partners had brokered an agreement that dealt with the economics. That agreement, notably, involved the sale of the two parcels for $12.95 million, and additionally, Land Partners II would get another five acres of land just west of the proposed stadium site that were owned collectively by the city, county, and MnDot. The attraction was, as Pogin notes, a "huge land swap."
"In their mind [the five acres] wasn't worth much; in our mind it was worth a lot," he says, noting that the land had been zoned for high-density residential. "I thought, oh my god, government and business really can work together."
Soon after, Pogin and Lambrecht began marketing the site and the surrounding neighborhood—the land owned mostly by their companies, it should be noted—as "Twinsville," posting signs in the neighborhood and lobbying extensively at the Capitol. But in the 2004-05 legislative session, lawmakers were still stinging from state and local budget crunches, and the will to pass a stadium measure in lieu of other business just wasn't there. The setback for the Twins was much noted in the media, but for Pogin and Lambrecht, the close of the session dealt an even harsher blow: The land swap deal was set to expire at the beginning of 2005, and surely no stadium bill would pass before then.