Ballpark battle: Fait accompli edition

County commissioners delay the inevitable

class=img_thumbleft>At the Hennepin County Board meeting yesterday afternoon, commissioners Penny Steele and Linda Koblick offered no fewer than 13 amendments to the county's proposed ballpark deal with the Twins. The idea was to derail the plan. It didn't work.

For more than three hours, Steele offered up printouts of proposed changes to the "principles of agreement" between the county and the team that will be the basis for legislative hearings slated to start today and sure to run over the next two weeks. Each time the "main motion"--that is, the proposed agreement--came before the body, Steele (pictured left) chimed in with her refrain of the day: "Mr. Chair, I have an amendment."

This prompted Commissioner Peter McLaughlin to quip about colleague Mike Opat at the other end of the bench: "He's over there reading Gone with the Wind."

McLaughlin and Opat could joke because they were in the 4-3 majority (boys against girls, naturally) that approved the county's deal last year, and would surely re-approve the same (if more costly) deal this year. And that majority ensured that most of Steele's amendments would get shot down.

Though Steele's gambit was largely symbolic, that didn't mean that her roughly dozen quibbles and misgivings (even she lost count) didn't raise some good questions. (Fellow anti-ballpark Commissioner Koblick tried to amend the language of the principles of the agreement when Steele was finished--again, to mostly no avail.)

For instance, Steele wanted to make sure that any money that came to the project from the proposed county sales tax would go solely to the construction of the project, and not to any slush fund for the Twins to manage its lease agreement.

Steele also wondered aloud who would really oversee the use and maintenance of the facility. There will be a "ballpark commission" created--with two county appointees, two city appointees and one from the governor's office--but it remains unclear what kind of control that commission will have over the stadium.

More saliently, Steele wanted to know quite a bit about parking revenue. The Target Center ramps are maintained by the city of Minneapolis, but owned by MnDot: a silly deal that gives most of the revenues to the state, very little to the city, and none to the county. It's still unclear how much "revenue-sharing" will go on if the Twins do indeed come to the nearby Rapid Park site.

And for that, Steele was keenly aware that two stretches of "flat-surface" parking nearby were indeed on county land. And what sort of revenue would the county get from these spots?

Steele also introduced a measure requiring that the Twins provide "affordable tickets"--a proposal that was doomed from the start, but raised a good point: How much of the team's $125 million toward this project will be paid back by inflated ticket prices?

Many of Steele's questions and amendments were pooh-poohed, with main negotiator Opat repeatedly pointing out that this is merely a proposal; the legislature will essentially dictate the details of any real deal--provided the stadium bill clears significant hurdles this week.

Which may be true on the one hand. But on the other, it's clear that any number of issues are being sidelined for now--something that's sure to create logjams and cost overruns down the line, should any ballpark deal come to fruition.

At one point, Steele, a staunch fiscal conservative who represents the western chunk of Hennepin County, admitted that as a kid, one of her dreams was to be a major-league baseball player. It was a foolish notion for a girl, Steele said, and even if she were a boy she wouldn't have had the talent to make it to the show. Her point, of course, is that she's a baseball fan, just not a fan of this agreement.

"I appreciate the negotiators who put this together, and no offense, but you were outgunned," Steele said of the county's contingent on the ballpark, right before the final vote. "This thing is just a bad deal."

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