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Soon thereafter, Pogin and Opat started talking tough, each taking shots at each other over the value of the land. At Hennepin County public hearings, county leaders were told not to speculate on the subject publicly. Opat started hinting that he'd still push for a stadium bill, even if that meant getting the land via condemnation. And Pogin and Lambrecht, for their part, partnered with Houston-based Hines Interests, an internationally known office and residential developer, saying they were going forth with massive development plans with or without a stadium.
With the start of the 2005-06 legislative session, Opat and his cohorts on the county board began their push again for a bill that would make the site the home of the Twins. While deals were being made at the Capitol, Lambrecht and Pogin waited. And waited. According to Pogin, the two never heard from the team or the Twins until August 2006, several months after the Twins ballpark bill was signed. And regarding land acquisition, Pogin claims the negotiating team for Land Partners had its first meeting with the county in January. "Negotiations for this should have started in January of '06, not '07," he offers.
Opat, for his part, disputes this as "more hyperbole" from Pogin and Lambrecht, and says there have been meetings with the landowners, Hines, and the Twins. Whatever the case, it's been clear that Land Partners was still holding out hope for something akin to the cash-and-land-swap 2004 agreement.
"We had an option agreement then, because that's a good deal," Pogin says, adding that at least 51 percent of the shareholders in the land voted for the 2004 agreement. "What the county is saying now is, 'No, no, no, no. We have a number, and we want you to take it.' The adjusted value that they want it for now doesn't even meet the adjusted value in the original agreement. It's almost the same number, adjusted for inflation, but it's missing 216,000 square feet of land."
Pogin adds, "There's no way they ever would have expected us to be a voluntary seller with this deal. They were planning eminent domain all the time."
Opat counters that the landowners are simply making a case for a higher value of the land now that the ballpark is looming. "We're condemning the land for use for a public purpose," he says. "[Pogin and Lambrecht] have for years suggested that this land be used for a public ballpark. If they are going to change their mind, then we can't go any further."
Opat claims that Pogin and Lambrecht are essentially trying to get as much of the $90 million set aside for land and remediation money as they can. "We've heard from these guys, 'You have $90 million, tell us your infrastructure costs, and give us the rest,'" Opat says of Land Partners. "Subtraction is not part of the equation here. The value of the land is the value of the land. It's been from them, 'What do you have and let's talk,' and we're saying no."
So it comes down to eminent domain proceedings. The court-appointed three-person panel charged with determining a value is supposed to judge the land in terms of present value, without considering the ballpark that is going there. No doubt the land is worth more than it was 10 years ago, as the Pogin/Lambrecht dream of a downtown housing boom has come to fruition. At the same time, there's reason to believe the housing boom is over, that the market was overpriced, and a correction in the downtown real estate market has set in. (Is it, for instance, worth more than it was when the 2004 agreement was brokered?)
"It sounds like there's a lot of room for dispute," observes Mac LeFevre, a prominent Minneapolis eminent domain attorney who was involved in similar proceedings concerning the Metrodome site nearly 30 years ago. LeFevre adds that condemnation disputes over ballpark sites aren't "very common because a new ballpark doesn't come around very often," but that there are laws around the country guaranteeing that stadiums do meet the threshold of "public purpose." Still, LeFevre cautions, a three-person panel might not see a stadium as the best value for that land. "They might see a world where buyers and sellers would value it more highly if there wasn't a ballpark going there," he says.
In other words, Pogin and Lambrecht may very well be right, and the panel might conclude the land is worth more than the $13.35 million the county is willing to spend. If that happens, there will be no stadium on the land.
But if Opat is worried, he doesn't show it. "You know what the land's like without a stadium—it's a parking lot, in a ravine," he concludes. "And if they really think that the condo market's hot enough that it should be something else, then [the landowners] should go balls to the wall and figure out how much they're going to get. We're not going to pay that number."
For Pogin, there's also a moral question involved. "Everybody on the government side and the Twins side is running away from that [2004 land swap] agreement," he says. "It's scary how the government decides it can just take land all the time. And they're doing it so out of context that it's outrageous. I mean, I'm going to try not to say anything inflammatory, but it's absurd. It's completely and totally absurd.