Opat to Pawlenty: Let's get it on

Architect of Twins stadium proposal sounds off on Guv

Everybody loves a winner, and that's never more apparent than on election night. Tuesday was no different, with seemingly every politician in town scurrying over to R.T. Rybak's victory party at the Ukraininan Event Center, tucked away off the river on Main Street in Northeast Minneapolis.

Hennepin County Commisioner Mike Opat was there, reveling in Rybak's victory rather than consoling his county board cohort and Rybak challenger Peter McLaughlin, who was holding a wake over at the Holiday Inn-Metrodome near the West Bank.

The Twins stadium issue came up, and Opat minced no words. "We need a governor with a backbone," Opat declared. "He started a conversation and he didn't finish it."

The source of Opat's frustration has much to do with Tim Pawlenty's obvious handwringing over the prospect of a special session. Since the legislature wrapped business this summer, Pawlenty has hinted that he would convene lawmakers this fall to deal with three stadium proposals, one each for the Twins, Vikings and Gopher football team.

But Opat also hinted that he hasn't heard from the Governor at all on the issue, and that the Twins were likewise in the dark. Opat negotiated the current proposal with the Twins to build a stadium on a parking lot just north of the Target Center as far back as a year ago. Hennepin County bears most of the costs via a .15 percent sales tax; some figured Pawlenty would go ga-ga over the deal because it involves no state money.

"I believed his heart was in it," Opat said, adding that nobody is really talking seriously about the proposal now. "Maybe it's issue fatigue, I don't know.

"The disaster scenario is that they think we're going to be there next year with this proposal," Opat continued. "But I'm not going to sit across the table from the Twins this spring and tell them we don't have a deal yet. If this doesn't happen, there will have to be a proposal that uses state dollars."

State representative Frank Hornstein, who represents the area around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, might be one to burst Opat's bubble. Hornstein, who was also at Rybak's party, offered that a special session wasn't likely. "It wouldn't be until December, and then it doesn't make sense, because you're talking about March when we start up again," Hornstein said. "It wouldn't be worth the cost at this point."

Hornstein, who has expressed distaste for public funding of stadiums in the past, said that the current proposal might have legs in the legislature--"the Minneapolis delegation would vote against it, and half of the Hennepin County delegation, but everybody else seems fine with it"--but that he would rather see a proposal that involves the Twins ponying up more than one-quarter of the cost. And, he said, if the deal changes to the Twins needing state money, all bets are likely off.

Either way, Opat seemed resigned to walking away. "If this proposal isn't hashed out, I'm done," Opat said, with just a hint of bitterness. "I've got to move on with my life."

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