Rybak to seek $3 million for Twins ballpark upgrades

Here's the group of 2014 All-Star Game boosters: from the left, Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, Twins great Tony Oliva, Twins President Dave St. Peter, Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant, Twins ballpark executive Jerry Bell and Mayor R.T. Rybak.
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Here’s the group of 2014 All-Star Game boosters: from the left, Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, Twins great Tony Oliva, Twins President Dave St. Peter, Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant, Twins ballpark executive Jerry Bell and Mayor R.T. Rybak.

They stood behind microphones on the roof of Target Center this morning. The Mankato-stone-adorned Twins ballpark rose quite spectacularly below them. The announcement — as MinnPost reported Tuesday — was about a bid for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

But the real news came when Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat announced — and Mayor R.T. Rybak confirmed — that later this year the mayor will be asking City Council for $3 million in his 2009 budget to help fund “little projects” for pedestrian improvements and transit access around the ballpark.

Three million bucks is barely enough to pay a second-string shortstop these days, and it’s tiny, compared with the overall project cost of $517 million.

Still, it is a significant move because, if approved by the City Council, it would become the first city money invested in the long-debated and long-awaited ballpark.

The city funds would be used, Rybak said, to link the stadium more easily to pedestrians who live and work nearby and to those who use mass transit — such as light rail – to get to games. That’s been a long-term  goal of the mayor’s and the team.

For now, there are no specific plans for Rybak’s little projects.  He mentioned sidewalk improvements, as one example.

From Opat’s perspective, Rybak’s commitment is a long-awaited city contribution to a project that will generate lots of activity for that part of downtown.

“It’s a first for the city,” Opat said of the $3 million as he spoke to journalists and others gathered for the All-Star announcement. “We’ve been waiting for this at the county . . . We hope the City Council works quickly, swiftly and affirmatively . . . It’s a good first step, and we look for more. We’ll keep pressing you, Mayor.”

It’s the county that stuck its fiduciary neck out and, with the aid of the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, instituted a 0.15 county-wide sales tax (3 cents on $20) to fund $350 million of the ballpark’s cost, with the Twins picking up the rest.

Rybak acknowledged that he “definitely expects that some questions will be raised” by council members about his $3 million proposal, but he said the goal was to help connect the ballpark with the rest of the neighborhood.

When Rybak attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver last month, he took a bike ride with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper around Coors Field, the ballpark there. There has been development around that ballpark, Rybak said, because the structure was thoughtfully integrated into the surrounding neighborhood. That’s his hope for the Twins edifice.

The $3 million eventually will be generated — beginning in 2010 — by the 3 percent entertainment tax that will be imposed on Twins tickets sold in the new ballpark. It’s a tax that, with rising ticket prices, will grow over time. The first $3 million infrastructure investment would be prepaid out of city property tax revenues, according to Rybak spokesman Jeremy Hanson.

But the city’s general fund will be reimbursed once the ballpark opens and the entertainment tax begins to flow.

In future years, the mayor wants to use that Twins-triggered entertainment tax money for public safety and traffic control around the ballpark.

“It’s money that wouldn’t be generated if the ballpark wasn’t here,” Rybak said.

But it’s money that, like all pro sports-linked tax dollars in Minneapolis, is sure to be widely discussed come budget time.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Craig Westover on 09/10/2008 - 05:23 pm.

    Wow – Were Opat and Rybak really that cavalier about imposing more taxes on denizens of the sustainable urban environment? Adding up the state sales tax, the ball park sales tax, the new transit sale tax and a 3 percent entertainment tax on Twins tickets, a Twins fan is looking at over a 10 percent tariff to go to a ballgame. Best way to get to the game? Light rail, of course. That way the fan can score the taxpayer subsidy for the train ride and actuarially recoup his sales and entertainment tax expense at the expense of people not even going to the game. Ain’t RybOeconnomics grand?

  2. Submitted by Matty Lang on 09/11/2008 - 10:46 am.

    I wonder if $3 million is enough to remove the unnecessary 3rd and 4th Street freeway viaducts that needlessly divide the neighborhood? (I know it’s not.) That would be a great investment that would certainly reconnect the neighborhood.

    I currently have to risk life and limb dodging speeding cars trying to get to freeways nearly every day I walk down 2nd Avenue North. The area is a taxpayer subsidized auto-oriented wasteland at present. All of the motorists are taking advantage of the taxpayer subsidized roads and ramps that rob the city of potential tax base.

    Where’s the outrage from Mr. Craig Westover?

  3. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 09/11/2008 - 03:14 pm.

    LOL… There’s a $90 million public funding limit for land & infrastructure in the Twins stadium legislation.

    Will state legislators need to approve the additional $3 million public contribution?

    How much will Minneapolis contribute to the Vikings stadium project? $10 million can be contributed without the need for another referendum “waiver”.

  4. Submitted by Tony Wagner on 09/11/2008 - 12:27 pm.

    Mr. Westover,

    Why do we only ridicule Opat and Rybak? Did not our esteemed legislature and governor also sign off on this ballpark plan? It seems a more effective citizen protest if we hold all elected officials fully accountable for their actions, and not play favorites with our blame.

  5. Submitted by Craig Westover on 09/11/2008 - 03:57 pm.

    Tony —

    You are absolutely correct, and in numerous columns and posts I’ve written just as you say. In fact, I would say the governor and Republicans in the legislature are more to blame for public subsidies for the ballpark, rail projects, JOBz, the bonding bill and the like because they profess to know better. One expects Rybak and Opat to be Rybak and Opat. But the subject of the post and my comment was the specific subsidy proposed with such a caviler attitude by Rybak and Opat. Another tweak on the governor and the legislature doesn’t make the reality of the bit by bit digestion of the taxpayer any more palatable, does it?

  6. Submitted by Craig Westover on 09/11/2008 - 03:59 pm.

    Matty —

    Conrad deFiebre of Minnesota 2020 raised the same point in response to a PiPress column I wrote. My response is here: http://www.mnfmi.org/policy-areas/transportation/254-response-to-minnesota-2020-lrt-is-a-private-benefit-not-a-public-good.html

  7. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 09/11/2008 - 06:00 pm.

    Craig–

    Where was the outrage when Gov. Pawlenty signed the Twins legislation with its “NEW TAX” and a referendum “waiver?”

    Where was Pawlenty when the Republican Party came down on the “Override-Six?”

    Makes me wonder if McCain’s vetting process uncovered the hypocracy of it all…

  8. Submitted by Jim Koepke on 09/15/2008 - 07:27 am.

    Yes, please levy more taxes on us to buy things for billionaires.

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