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The Rise and Fall of an Edifice Complex

Christopher Henderson

The debate over building a publicly funded baseball stadium to replace the Metrodome was kicked off in the mid-Nineties. Many a deal for a new Minnesota Twins ballpark has been roundly snuffed at the state capitol in the meantime, yet the issue staggers on, like a zombie hungry for fresh blood. Few have done more to meet the demand than the editorial board of the Star Tribune, the self-proclaimed "Newspaper of the Twin Cities."

It wasn't ever thus. There was a time, back in the Dark Ages circa 1993, when the Strib's board calmly and coolly believed there was no sense in replacing the perfectly suitable Metrodome at taxpayers' expense. (Of course, at the time the more pressing public bailout of Target Center was looming on the horizon.) But since they climbed fully aboard the booster wagon in early 1996, it's been hard to quiet the polemic din.

As St. Paulites prepare to vote yea or nay November 2 on an extra half-cent sales tax to fund one-third of a new Twins stadium in their fair city, we at City Pages thought it might be useful to sample the voluminous heap of verbiage Star Tribune editorialists have spent on scolding and pampering its pet project. We traced stadium-related editorials back a good six years, and found more than five dozen penned on the topic alone. (This is only counting unsigned, voice-of-the-paper opinions, not bylined think pieces.) Scads of pronouncements on other subjects--some as far-removed as the stalled Block E development--made passing reference to the wisdom of spending, say, hundreds of millions on a new Twins' nest in Minneapolis.

They liked the retractable roof idea. They nixed the notion of paying for it with sin taxes or gambling revenues, but regularly endorsed some kind of general tax. They frothed at the mouth over the Legislature's stubborn refusal to pass a stadium-finance bill. Most recently they expressed chagrin over the fact that, lo these many years, the myopic masses still appear unwilling to cough up a dime to buy Carl Pohlad's boys a new home. No matter what, they were never at a loss for an opinion.


The "We Don't need a new Ballpark" Era

September 24, 1993: The dawn of the modern age for Star Tribune stadium editorials. Responding to a scheme to erect an outdoor ballpark right next to the Metrodome, the paper's board dismissed the idea as "goofy" and "outlandish," before unequivocally concluding that "[t]he Twin Cities area clearly doesn't need a new, publicly financed outdoor stadium for baseball."

January 8, 1994: "For now, however, the kind of improvements being considered by the Sports Facilities Commission and its major tenants--the Twins, Vikings, and Gophers--should help keep the Metrodome a good investment for years to come."

April 8, 1995: Coming off the major-league baseball strike, the Strib dubs the Twins' quest for a new home "outrageous" and concludes, "What the Gophers and the Twins need more than new stadiums are better teams to play in the one they've got."

July 24, 1995: "No longer is it enough merely to react to the demands of money-grubbing club owners....Cities, regions, and states must instead get out in front with proactive policies and strategies of their own for dealing with footloose franchises."

October 24, 1995: In response to Gov. Arne Carlson's proposal for a referendum on a metrowide sales tax to fund a ballpark: "A more philosophic question is whether a tax on ordinary day-to-day purchases is a proper vehicle for raising money for professional sports...."


The "We're Starting to Like This Idea" Era

January 21, 1996: "The Twins do need a new stadium....Even with a long-term subsidy, however, a new Twins stadium could be a good public investment. A new stadium would guarantee the team's continued presence in the Twin Cities at least through the first quarter of the 21st century...."

April 18, 1996: On an announced goal by Carlson's office of hammering out a stadium solution by July in the face of public hostility: "Recent experience in cities like Cincinnati, Seattle, and Detroit shows that such opposition can be overcome."

August 27, 1996: "If the Twins are to remain competitive in the American League--or, for that matter, remain much longer in Minnesota--they will need a new stadium of the kind recently built in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Denver...."

November 2, 1996: On the economic disparity between large- and small-market teams: "...it's important to realize this imbalance forces Twins owner Carl Pohlad and others to seek out fresh sources of revenue--namely a new baseball-only stadium--to remain afloat."


The "Giddy Enthusiasm" Era

January 10, 1997: "With his stunning offer to put up as much as $158 million of his own resources toward a new Twins ballpark...no longer can it be plausibly argued that Pohlad wants the public to buy him a fancy new ballpark so he can get richer than he already is."  

January 31, 1997: On revelations that Pohlad's "contribution" would actually be a loan: "[D]id anyone really believe...the Pohlad family was proposing to make an outright gift rather than a recoverable investment?" (Uh, didn't you guys?)

March 5, 1997: On the possibility of raiding the state surplus: "...the idea of tapping those excess billions to pay for a stadium is more and more worthy of consideration."

April 6, 1997: A barnburner that gravely proclaims, "No ballpark, no Twins," defends the team owner's parsimony ("Carl Pohlad didn't get where he is by giving away the store") and lobbies for taxpayers to fork it over--"a justifiable option given baseball's general benefits to the community."


The "Apocalypse is at Hand" Era

May 14, 1997: "If major-league baseball abandons Minnesota 17 months from now, blame it on inept legislators...."

May 23, 1997: "The process of moving major-league baseball out of Minnesota has begun."

June 6, 1997: While Norm Coleman successfully cheerleads for a pro-hockey franchise in St. Paul, "the opportunity to keep the Twins in Minnesota slowly wastes away."

August 15, 1997: "...not building the Twins a new ballpark would probably accomplish nothing beyond driving the team out of town."

August 31, 1997: "Right now you'd have to say that the future of major-league baseball in Minnesota looks pretty bleak."

October 3, 1997: On the eve of the state Legislature's special session, with Pohlad set to sell the team to Don Beaver of North Carolina if Minnesota doesn't pony up quick: "If there is one thing that is not needed in the stadium debate, it's more time....Time's up."

October 8, 1997: "...where is there room, in discussions of a hugely expensive new stadium many don't want, for injecting calculations of the cost to Minnesota youngsters, if their team becomes the North Carolina Twins?" (Call it the "for god's sake, think of the children" approach.)

October 23, 1997: "The money that didn't go to a stadium won't go to schools or parks. The Minnesota economy and culture will be poorer and more isolated. And Minnesotans will wonder how in the world they let the Twins escape."

November 14, 1997: "The game may be in the ninth inning, but as Yogi Berra once said, it ain't over till it's over."


The "World Didn't End, But Let's Look at This Deal Again" Era

December 2, 1997: "It may be a question of who gets a stadium plan approved first--Minnesota or North Carolina....[T]he Minnesota Legislature can still get in ahead of the competition by passing a stadium bill during its 1998 session."

February 8, 1998: "To leave the Twins indefinitely in the Metrodome, where they can only lose more money and more ballgames, would benefit no one...."

February 20, 1998: Editorial headline: "Strike 2 1/2" (i.e., still time for a deal!).

July 24, 1998: On a proposed two-year Metrodome lease extension for the Twins: "Count us qualified optimists. Given the current political climate, a new lease gives Minnesota its best hope of holding the Twins."


The "Embittered Cynicism" Era

January 10, 1999: "...saying no to public stadium money is the right answer in a perfect world. But we don't live in one."

June 10, 1999: On Mayor Norm Coleman's attempts to lure the team to St. Paul: "Twenty years ago, Minneapolis failed miserably to make the Metrodome and its drab surroundings a festive place to go. It cannot afford to do so again."

July 22, 1999: After a poll showing 4-to-1 opposition to taxpayer funding of a new stadium: "Whatever the reasons, Minnesotans seem to care little that they stand apart from a country in the midst of a sports building boom."

August 4, 1999: On a proposal outlining a $325 million ballpark in St. Paul, with costs split between the team, state, and city: "...Monday's deal is unlikely to turn the unfortunate tide against which this project struggles."

August 8, 1999: "Most Minnesotans wouldn't miss the 3 cents a week it would take to build a ballpark."

October 9, 1999: On the team's conditional sale to Glen Taylor and Robert Naegele Jr.: "a paper deal of the thinnest sort." On Pohlad, once praised as the generous steward of local baseball: "his own worst enemy." On the cowardly citizens of Minnesota: "They've become the sour fundamentalists of the sporting world....It's now to the point where Major League Baseball is considering closing down the Twins (and Montreal Expos) because they lack the ballparks and the civic commitment to compete."

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