Minneapolis Looks for New Ballpark

Hennepin County has told the Minnesota Twins that building a new ballpark at a preferred site in downtown Minneapolis could likely require the team to spend more money, and has identified six sites across the metro area that could serve as an alternative location for a stadium.

The newest disclosures come as county negotiators and a limited liability partnership that controls the 8-acre stadium site remain at an impasse over the sale price, with both sides publicly faulting one another for the standoff.

The delay has already forced the Twins to postpone an unveiling of the stadium's detailed design, pushed back this month's site preparation work and threatened to undermine the start of major construction in August.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, the lead stadium negotiator for the County Board, said he has tentatively identified six sites that could serve as a substitute location for the 40,000-seat, open-air ballpark.

The sites, he said, include a 40-acre parcel near the new Target Co. campus in Brooklyn Park, property owned by the Star Tribune near the Metrodome, and the Farmers Market on the near North Side of downtown Minneapolis.

In Brooklyn Park, investor David Nelson said he had spoken to Opat and local officials about a 40-acre parcel along Hwy. 610 owned by a three-person limited partnership.

"If it's not going to work," Nelson said of the downtown Minneapolis site, "why not look at Brooklyn Park?"

While the idea of looking for another site has gained some traction, it is seen in other corners as a negotiating ploy more than a reality. Moving to another location would require legislative approval and would likely threaten a 2010 opening date for a new stadium.

Opat nonetheless said other sites being explored were property along the Mississippi River near Dowling Avenue in north Minneapolis, an undisclosed parcel in St. Louis Park and the Brookdale Mall property that Opat said previously was not greeted with enthusiasm by the Twins.

Opat, however, said the county, for the time being, remained committed to the so-called Rapid Park property owned by the Land Partners II limited liability partnership. But he said that in talks with the team, including a session over the past weekend, county officials said that a series of other issues - and not just the land-sale impasse - were making the project "more complicated than we thought, and more expensive."

`Slow progress'

Opat confirmed that the county has discussed having the team help with funding to buy the land, a role that until now has been by agreement the county's responsibility.

Team officials, who were unavailable for comment Thursday, have in the past deflected questions over whether the Twins would provide money to help secure the land. The team has committed $130 million to the project, and is responsible for the stadium's construction and cost overruns.

Opat would not directly address unconfirmed reports that the Twins, in exchange for helping to buy the land, were seeking an expanded role with the project, particularly in regard to the $90 million budget controlled by the county for roads and bridge infrastructure surrounding the stadium.

While he said there had been "slow progress" in talks with the team, Opat said the county and the team faced other thorny issues such as the realignment of a Burlington Northern railroad track next to the stadium.

"It's more than what I thought," Opat said of the complexities and possible added costs in reaching an agreement with the railroad.

However, the land negotiations remain at the heart of what, if anything, happens next.

County Board Chairman Randy Johnson said that he had recently met privately with a Hines Interests official to try to break the stalemate, but that he was unsuccessful. Hines, a Texas-based developer, reportedly owns an option on the stadium land through an agreement with Land Partners II and had previously announced its own redevelopment plans for other land surrounding the stadium.

But Johnson said he came away with few answers, including details on Hines' specific role in the stadium land's ownership.

"I kept asking, `What's Hines' involvement?'-" he said. "I never get very many answers."

Although the county initiated condemnation proceedings in November, and it disclosed that an appraiser had placed the land's value at $13.35 million, county officials have not since then pushed the effort.

County officials said the state-imposed $90 million cap on infrastructure costs, which must include the land purchase, effectively means that paying more money for the land will mean less money for the necessary roads and bridges near the stadium.

Spokesmen for Land Partners II have scoffed at the county's initial sale-price offer, saying the property is worth considerably more.

"Nobody would be interested in the county's deal," said Rich Pogin, a spokesman for the partnership. "We'll go back to operating our parking lot."