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A change of heart: After all my Pohlad-bashing days, it’s time to praise them for the Twins stadium ‘extras’

Aerial view of Target Field
Courtesy of the Minnesota Twins
A fresh view of Target Field — and of the Pohlad family.

I know the clichés and stereotypes: The Pohlads are cheap. The public shouldn’t be in the business of building ballparks. The Dome’s good enough.

As a former newspaper sports columnist and, later, a metro columnist, I was a frequent participant in helping to create them.

But recently, I had the opportunity to take a nearly two-hour tour of the Minnesota Twins‘ new outdoor park. I expected to be unimpressed. But as I exited the place, I found myself asking this question: “Am I really in Minnesota?”

New ballpark will remake downtown
The ballpark is beautiful. It’s going to change the aura of downtown Minneapolis. And part of the reason for that is that those “cheap Pohlads” have poured considerable money into the public space beyond the park.

Before more on the park, however, more disclaimers are needed.

Since leaving the Star Tribune two years ago, I’ve spent some of my time writing a book for the University of Minnesota Press on the history of the Twins. The book is to be published next spring, just about the time Target Field makes its official debut.

The Twins were helpful in this project, especially in connecting me with former players. But the Pohlads did not respond to requests for interviews, perhaps because they remembered many of the shots I fired their way over my years at the newspaper. (Billionaires make such easy targets for newspaper columnists.)

And still more disclaimers:

Financing plan made me change my opposition
After years of ridiculing the idea that the public should be expected to build a ballpark, I did a 180-degree switch in 2006, when Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat came up with a simple plan for public funding. Opat’s plan was to add a .015 percent charge to the sales tax in Hennepin County. That amounts to three cents on every $20 purchase.

Mike Opat
Mike Opat

My switch angered many. But I was intrigued by its simplicity and also by my beliefs that: a) state leaders were incapable of making a hard decision and b) without a new ballpark, the team ultimately would leave Minnesota.

Under the Opat plan — to the contempt of many, there was no referendum, for Opat knew a referendum would doom the project — the public payment in the stadium was capped at $350 million, $90 million of which was dedicated for infrastructure. The Twins were to contribute $130 million. Additionally, unlike its current arrangement at the Metrodome, the team is required to pay all annual maintenance costs at the ballpark, which are expected to run from $10 million to $12 million a year. (At the Dome, there the team pays nothing for annual maintenance.)

An added, little-publicized bonus that might even ease the pain for some ballpark opponents: The sales tax, which even in these down times is generating enough money to pay off the $20 million annual mortgage payment on the ballpark, also is kicking in new revenue for amateur sports and the county’s library system.

Already, Opat said, Minneapolitans may have noticed that a number of libraries, including the downtown library, are now open again Sunday. Those libraries have re-opened, thanks to $2 million annually coming from the ballpark sales tax.

“Ballpark Sundays” is what Opat calls the expanded library hours. 

Additionally, the county has signed an agreement with the state’s Amateur Sports Commission to award $2 million annually in grants for sports programs in Hennepin County from revenues from the sales tax.

So now, we come to the “cheap Pohlads.”

From the beginning, they’ve been writing checks for extras, including a check for $19.5 million to help cover the infrastructure costs. (The public’s $90 million was not enough for the costs of land purchasing, soil cleanup and the rest.)

Twins pitch in extra $55 million inside and outside park
In total, the Pohlads — since the death of Carl Pohlad, his son Jim has become the major voice of the family when it comes to baseball matters — have spent $55 million beyond their initial $130 million contribution. It should be noted, too, that the Twins’ $130 million obligation was paid up front.

Carl Pohlad
Courtesy of the Pohlad family
Carl Pohlad

Some of this extra money has been spent for aesthetic improvements inside the park: more Minnesota limestone trim along a wall above left field, limestone trim above the dugouts and around the pressbox, for example.

“Seeing teams put additional money inside the ballparks may not be unusual, but they’ve put close to $20 million to enhance the public space [outside the ballpark],” said Dan Kenney, executive director of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, day-to-day problem-solver and the coordinator between Hennepin County and the Twins.

The five-member Authority board includes two members appointed by the governor, two by the Hennepin County Board and one by the mayor of Minneapolis. The authority is the actual owner of the ballpark.

The site selected has some pluses — and one major minus.

On the positive side, there are several publicly owned parking lots. Opat notes that there will be a nice side bonus for the public from those ramps, which usually sit empty many evenings. Baseball fans will be filling up the ramps 81 times a year, producing new revenue.

Additionally, the site is at the confluence of highways, light rail and the new Northstar Commuter Rail line, which is to open in November. Though the commuter line is a shared rail line, officials believe that there will be enough scheduling flexibility to tie commuter trains to Twins games.

The downside is the size of the site itself — a tight fit for a 40,000-seat ballpark on just nine acres of land. Planners had to use every foot of that space to produce, in effect, a “throwback ballpark” that’s folded into the downtown environment. The stadium and sidewalks, streets, tracks and a bike path all meld now into an area that once was a dreary landscape of surface-level parking used only by the brave or the cheap.
Plaza will become popular gathering space
The most noticeable stadium enhancement is a plaza, beyond the right-field boundaries of the ballpark.  Target Corp., which has purchased naming rights to the stadium, and the Twins kicked in $9 million to create a plaza that opens the ballpark to the adjacent Target Center and then to the entire warehouse district and all of downtown Minneapolis.

The plaza will be open day and night, year-round, with the Twins responsible for maintenance and security. There will be concession stands open, even when the team is not playing. This will become an outdoor public gathering place that downtown Minneapolis has sorely lacked.

Jim Pohlad
Minnesota Twins
Jim Pohlad

The team didn’t stop with the plaza. Sidewalks down along Seventh Street from the Warehouse District to the ballpark have been widened from 8 to 17 feet, with landscaping along the way.

(By the way, sod used in all landscaping outside the park has been purchased from Minnesota growers, unlike the sod for the field, which was purchased from a grower in Colorado, much to the consternation of a handful of Minnesota growers.)

The Pohlads also have written checks for improvements in sidewalks and pedestrian overpasses in other areas around the park.

Few details have been overlooked. A Pohlad check is behind a huge piece of public art that will hang over the bland wall of a parking ramp beyond left field. There are benches, trees and grass everywhere — outside the park. Opat said Pohlad is even insistent that each of the 3,500 workers who helped build the stadium have a chance to go to a game with friends or family at no cost.

Surely, there will be complaints about the ballpark. Some of the upper-deck seats appear to be very high up. Until fans figure things out, there will be traffic issues and parking headaches. Until the first game is played, no one will know whether this will be “a hitter’s park” or a pitcher’s paradise.

It’s my belief that many fans won’t miss the Metrodome on those cold spring and fall days. We’re Minnesotans; we have boots. And for the fainthearted, there will be heated areas in the open concourses, where fans will be able to huddle and still watch the game.  But on sweltering summer days, when the air is thick and the sun is hot, we may look back fondly on the air-conditioned confines of the Dome.

Almost certainly, fans are also going to miss the decided home-field advantage the Twins had playing in the Dome, which produced strange hops and fly balls lost in the roof.

But clearly, this is a place that will change downtown. What was a dead zone will come alive. And because of the plaza and walkways, there may be a spillover of people into a downtown that is often devoid of vitality.

“I think Jim has been interested in making a statement,” said Opat, implying that the Pohlads, who fought hard and offended many over the years, are interested in helping create a ballpark that puts to rest many of the hard feelings that led up to the construction.

The Pohlads, of course, are getting a lot out of this deal. But the public is getting something special, too.

Comments (39)

  1. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 09/08/2009 - 06:16 am.

    I don’t know if I was one of the few or one of the many, but I had sent e-mails and suggestions to the County Commissioners that the sales tax would be more palatable if it included additional funding for libraries.

    No need to thank me, as I am sure that there were many with the same idea.

    I can’t wait until the ballpark opens next spring!

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/08/2009 - 09:01 am.

    Convenience store stickups are simple as well. The Twins Stadium is a monument to bad public policy, and in that respect serves a useful purpose for our community. I have always believed the ballpark should be renamed Opat Field, and that there should be a statue out front showing Mike picking a taxpayer’s pocket.

    That said, Snickers bars are bad for us too, but sometimes we just need one, and when eaten in moderation probably don’t hurt us that much. For better or worse, we have a new stadium and for our long term benefit we must use it wisely, find ways to derive the most benefit from it, and to limit the damage it causes.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/08/2009 - 09:38 am.

    Did you check out the light rail stop? People will get crushed when trying to get off the light rail. There is absolutely no room for a large number of people to simultaneously get off the train in the rush that ensues when the train doors open.

    And – it should have been built with a retractable roof. Let’s revisit this on April 2 (the exhibition game home opener), shall we? I’m guessing that your tour took place on a recent 75 degree sunny August afternoon, right?

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/08/2009 - 10:04 am.

    A quick math calculation demonstrates that we could have had all the public benefits described for around 12 million dollars, without the stadium! Instead we paid $290 million to keep the libraries open, and you call this a deal? “We” didn’t need the stadium, Polad did. This is a welfare program for a billionaire pure and simple. I’m supposed to be impressed that they have to maintain the stadium we built for them? Imagine the public square we could’ve had IF THERE WASN’T A GIANT STADIUM TAKING UP ALL THAT SPACE! Imagine the rail stations we could have had IF WE DIDN’T HAVE TO SQUEEZE THEM IN NEXT A BIG DAMN STADIUM!

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/08/2009 - 10:23 am.

    Nobody goes to ball games in April or September. What made sense was to build a ball park optimally suited to the needs of fans when they do go to games, in the summer months.

  6. Submitted by Susan Lesch on 09/08/2009 - 11:12 am.

    Glad you’re happy with it. I can’t figure out why anyone would want to build another spectator sports stadium. Six of them in a 1.2 mile radius.

    It would have been interesting if only it had been built for women’s sports.

  7. Submitted by Pat Backen on 09/08/2009 - 11:22 am.

    I agree it should be called Opat Field, but for an entirely different reason.

    Billionaire owners and their millionaire players aren’t the only ones that benefit. Even without the highly contested economic impact of a new stadium there are soft benefits to a community.

    Like it or not, professional sports bring “legitimacy” to a city. Teams start leaving the state and pretty soon convention become harder to land, large corporations are less likely to draw young talent, etc.

    Taxpayers are asked to subsidize the arts, downtown shopping malls, locally based airlines and countless other businesses that are sold as community assets.

    From my perspective, sports teams are as much an asset as any of those. Art, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.

    Mr. Opat deserves much credit for both his perseverance and willingness to put his neck on the line. Our county and state are better for it.

  8. Submitted by frank watson on 09/08/2009 - 11:34 am.

    It was interesting that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys were in town this past week and he said that rich NFL teams shouldn’t be subsidizing lower income teams. Funny he forgot to mention that Dallas tax payers are subsidizing his Stadium and football team. I hope the Minnesota legislators remember his statement. Meanwhile, a thank you to the Dallas taxpayers for helping subsidizing the Viking payroll.

  9. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 09/08/2009 - 12:24 pm.

    Now what are the chances the Vikings will try the same “end run” around the will of “the People” with another referendum “waiver” on a statewide sales tax increase?

    Stuffing the Hennepin Co. sales tax increase down our throats was easy for non-Hennepin Co. legislators.

    Let’s see how willing they’ll be to tax their own constituents.

  10. Submitted by Alan Williamson on 09/08/2009 - 12:24 pm.

    Funny, building a sports stadium for the local team is socialism. Do you know who else supported building sports stadiums?…Hitler! /s

    I am thankful the Hennepin County Commission got the financing done and that Minnesotans can now watch and enjoy the Twins playing baseball outside on real grass. The people of Minnesota don’t know how good they have it. Thank God the Pohlads are baseball fans!!

    God Bless you all and God Bless America!!!

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/08/2009 - 12:44 pm.

    ‘Taxpayers are asked to subsidize the arts, downtown shopping malls, locally based airlines and countless other businesses that are sold as community assets.”

    Each needs to be considered on it’s merits. Subsidies to the arts cost a lot less, and the money spent is a lot likelier to stay in the community. Downtown shopping malls cost more, but there to, the money stays here. The problem is that they tend to fail.

    What do subsidies bring in return? How much bang do we get for our subsidy buck? Are we creating jobs that would be created anyway, or do not have long term impact on our community? The kind of jobs that support people and their families? That you can live on, and that provide benefits? In creating beer vendor jobs at stadiums, and compensating ballplayers who take our money to Florida, how much in of our resources are we diverting from things that really build value in our community?

  12. Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 09/08/2009 - 01:32 pm.

    Many thanks to Doug Grow for a thought-provoking column. I like baseball, downtown and good architecture, have long despised Twins management and the lousy deal Hennepin County struck to bail out the state. I haven’t been crazy about the stadium as it has risen, and everything the Twins touch from uniform designs to the pitching staff turns to mediocre. But if Doug finds reason to be optimistic, then that means something.

    And then I saw the comments. “Thank God the Pohlads are baseball fans!”

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/08/2009 - 01:41 pm.

    It’s long been established by economists that in terms of public benefit, pro – sports subsidies are a wash, it’s hard to imagine getting less bang for the buck. As to the legitimacy pro-teams give to a city, yeah right, London will never amount to anything until they get a baseball team, New York was just a hole in the wall until baseball came along, and L.A. completely disappeared there for while without a foot ball team. These arguments are so old and lame it’s jut plain tedious. They literally had to bypass the citizens and set aside the law in order to build this thing because most people see it for what it is, a welfare program for a billionaire.

  14. Submitted by Pat Backen on 09/08/2009 - 02:35 pm.

    Agreed that we need to look at each on it’s own.

    But as I stated in my original post, the economic benefits of a new stadium are highly contested. My point was that there are other “soft” benefits – and admittedly these are very hard to quantify.

    I understand that lots and lots of people think they are a silly waste of time and money, but I think that sports teams actually do “really build value in our community”. Not all value is measured in dollars and cents.

    If it was, we would not have a world class theater and a fantastic collection of art museums to visit while we transition between sports seasons!

  15. Submitted by David Thompson on 09/08/2009 - 03:04 pm.

    For those of us who are baseball fans, the new Twins stadium is a joy to behold. Baseball should be played outdoors, on real grass, and the spectators’ seats should face the infield. Good riddance to the Metrodome.

  16. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 09/08/2009 - 04:03 pm.

    “They literally had to bypass the citizens and set aside the law.”

    Please provide support for this wildly inaccurate statement. Note that:

    A. Every commissioner who supported the stadium was reelected in contested elections. I did not hear one complaint of voter fraud.

    B. The law specifically allows exemptions to tax increase referenda; no law was “set aside;” in fact, the law was followed to the letter.

    My prediction is that you will have no response. Neither does Nick Coleman, who has been pushing the wholly inaccurate argument that the stadium tax was illegal for years.

  17. Submitted by Joseph Kosowski on 09/08/2009 - 04:16 pm.

    I sincerely wish that Mr. Gluekman and all his whiny, wimpy friends would leave Minnesota. If non-retractable roof stadiums are good enough for baseball teams in Chicago, Cleveland, Detriot, Pittsburgh, and many other places with weather extremely similar to Minnesota, then non-retractable roof stadiums are good enough for us. If you’re too faint of heart to go sit outside on a beautiful 50-degree April day with long pants, long sleeves, a hoodie and a hat, then move to Florida or California with all the rest of the wimps. Minnesota is not for you.

  18. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 09/08/2009 - 04:38 pm.

    Also overlooked by the “why didn’t it include a roof crowd?” is the fact that retractable stadiums are monstrosities. Not only would it have not fit in the location of Target Field, but it almost certainly would not have been as asthetically pleasing: see Milwaukee, Arizona, Seattle, Toronto…none of those stadiums have the intimacy or charm of Target Field.

    (Full disclosure: I have only seen Seattle’s from the exterior, and have only seen Toronto’s on tv.)

  19. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/08/2009 - 04:45 pm.

    “The law specifically allows exemptions to tax increase referenda; no law was “set aside;” in fact, the law was followed to the letter.”

    Can you provide a link to the statute? Can you tell us which exemption, the ball park fell under?

    “Every commissioner who supported the stadium was reelected in contested elections. I did not hear one complaint of voter fraud.”

    Are you suggesting that a referendum on the ball park would have passed?

  20. Submitted by Joseph Kosowski on 09/08/2009 - 05:55 pm.

    Hiram, he’s suggesting that in the court of public opinion (the voting booth), the politicians who voted for the stadium bill did not get voted out of office in the following elections, and therefore the people had spoken by re-electing the commissioners who voted for the ballpark. Obviously the public was not outraged at the politicians who voted for the stadium bill, and least not a majority of the public…

  21. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/08/2009 - 07:24 pm.

    //A. Every commissioner who supported the stadium was reelected in contested elections. I did not hear one complaint of voter fraud.

    I’ve never heard anyone complain that the officials who betrayed their constituents where not duly elected. The problem with our system is that this kind of corruption is perfectly legal.

    B. The law specifically allows exemptions to tax increase referenda; no law was “set aside;” in fact, the law was followed to the letter.

    Setting a law aside is not the same committing an illegal act. Existing law for Hennepin County requires a referendum, public approval for any increase in sales tax. Every referendum ever presented in MN has resulted in a stadium defeat. This referendum requirement was specifically exempted in the stadium financing bill precisely because everyone knew that given a chance, voters would turn it down. Again, I never heard anyone claim this was illegal, just a betrayal of the counties residents on behalf of a billionaire.

    My statement that they bypassed the citizens and set aside existing law is simply an historical observation, not a false claim. The following quote from Grow’s article makes that clear:

    “Under the Opat plan — to the contempt of many, there was no referendum, for Opat knew a referendum would doom the project”

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/08/2009 - 07:35 pm.

    //Not all value is measured in dollars and cents.

    If it was, we would not have a world class theater and a fantastic collection of art museums to visit while we transition between sports seasons!

    If we weren’t talking about 300 million dollars and cents you guys might have a point. But half a billion public bucks for a privately owned pro ball club is in no way comparable to any museum or theater. And all this money is basically going to a single individual’s business unlike public expenditures for something like a shopping mall. Furthermore, I get to my museum for free 6 days a week, and likewise I don’t have to pay to go to the mall. With the stadium we’re paying 300 million bucks for the privilege of spending more money to buy tickets to get into the place. There is no 300 million dollar publicly subsidized theater or museum, nor will there ever be. For the record, I personally was also apposed to the NWA maintenance base deal, and the MOA deals.

  23. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/08/2009 - 09:49 pm.

    We are be-sodded to the Gospel Wealth, to Manifest Destiny, the Bootstraps nonsense and modern “networking” all in one slick package. Oh and then the garbage burner in the background plus the Mary’s Place discomfort, I’d rather pay for the funding of HCMC then a facility I’l never use because it will be too expensive for a school teacher to afford. There’s so much cruel irony in all of this. Maybe I’ll just build a sound wall similar to the barriers erected along the new 35w coming into downtown and dedicate one of the lanes to the rich and ignore the depths of all this Minnesota progessivism.

  24. Submitted by Dan Hoffman on 09/09/2009 - 05:33 am.

    Thank you for your story about the Twins and the new stadium. I wish you much success with your book on the history of the Minnesota Twins. This summer, while visiting with a former MN Representative and lobbyist I was very impressed with the man’s knowledge and experience of the Twins history over the years. He had many “inside” stories and infromation that do not appear to be common knowledge to the public. I encouraged him to write a book about the information and insight he had. I believe his experiences and comments would be a great addition to your book. Please e-mail me if you would like his contact information.

  25. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2009 - 06:48 am.

    “he’s suggesting that in the court of public opinion (the voting booth), the politicians who voted for the stadium bill did not get voted out of office in the following elections, and therefore the people had spoken by re-electing the commissioners who voted for the ballpark.”

    And I am suggesting that the reason the commissioners refused to put the stadium before the voters is because they knew it would never pass, and not because it fell within some exemption to the statute, which so far at least, Mr. Eldred has been unable to identify.

    I do understand your point, and what it suggests about the political cynicism of our county commissioners.

  26. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/09/2009 - 08:38 am.

    One last comment on this business of “elected” officials. This bill was a perfect example legal public corruption and public betrayal for sooo many reasons. First, it has been suggested that since no on the Met Council was voted out people must have been OK with the deal. We live in a country where almost half the people can’t identify one branch of our government, how many people do think even know what the Met Council is let alone who’s on it or what it does? The fact that no got voted out is most likely a function of voter ignorance rather than assent. Then there’s the bill itself. It was very carefully crafted to insulate any vulnerable elected officials. The house sponsor was from New Ulm, and the bill was narrowly targeted at citizen of Hennepin County. Every official outside of Hennepin Co. hence was free to vote for it risk free, and there weren’t enough votes to block in inside Hennepin Co. so officials there could vote against it assured that it would pass anyways. The bill was specifically designed to skirt around electoral consequences. The fact that the House sponsor was a Republican just demonstrates how unified both parties are behalf of the wealthy. The only tax bill presented by a Republican is one that created a welfare program for a billionaire. Meanwhile, almost within sight of the rising stadium a bridge collapses. Small government for the people, big government for billionaires.

  27. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/09/2009 - 09:45 am.

    OK, obviously this stadium thing really gets under my skin. I ask for your indulgence one last time. Getting back to Grow’s article:

    “”Under the Opat plan — to the contempt of many, there was no referendum, for Opat knew a referendum would doom the project”

    So here we have an elected official, who knows perfectly well that the people he’s supposed to be representing do not and will not consent to paying for a ball park. The question arises then: who is Opat really working for? Is it appropriate for an elected official to devote so many resources and so much time to defeating the will of his own constituents? Is that what democracy is?

    Now we’re not dealing with the tyranny of the masses here. This is not unpopular but just civil rights legislation. Nor is it leadership in the face popular resistance or ignorance comparable to the Endangered Species Act or environmental legislation. This was a plan that was tailored to deliver economic prosperity to a single individual’s business enterprise at public expense. This was welfare program for Carl Polad, and it was totally irresponsible public policy. Here we have a legislature and Governor who for the life them can’t even get in the same room to discuss the budget much less resolve consecutive budget deficits, but they manage to solve Carl Polad’s stadium problem? What does that tell you about the state of our democracy? We threw almost 40,000 people out of health care because we couldn’t find the money but we came up with 300 million for Polad? I just want to know one thing, who was gonna die if didn’t build that stadium? I can tell you who’s dying because they don’t have health care.

    It’s not about being a baseball fan, it’s about being a responsible citizen. I’m not a baseball guy, I can’t name a single player on the team. I’m a movie guy, love movies, watch movies all the time. Am I asking for public subsidies for my Netflix? Am I asking my fellow citizens to cough up half a billion dollars for a new movie theater? I am not, more importantly I never would. Pro teams are not public assets, the public neither owns them nor collects profit from them. We do not have free access to the stadiums, and although the bonds will paid off, those who are paying the sales taxes will never get their money back. For 300 million bucks we could’ve built another light rail line somewhere, or extended the commuter rail to St. Cloud… THAT would have been leadership, THAT would have been a truly public asset that would deliver concrete and intangible value to our community. Instead we literally found ourselves in a situation where the only welfare program in the state that’s NOT being cut is Carl Polad’s. And I’m supposed to be impressed by his expenditures?

    Here’s the thing you baseball guys have to realize. These owners are billionaires, they can afford to build their own stadiums, they just don’t have to because we have a corrupt political system that does end-runs around its own constituents. No matter how you cut it it is bad public policy to publicly subsidize professional sports. These subsidies are not chicken feed, we’re talking billions of dollars nationwide. Public resources are supposed to be devoted to public benefit. It is irresponsible and irrational to divert so many pubic resources to sports at a time when we have towns that can’t afford police protection, bridges that are collapsing, education systems in crises, and millions of people suffering and dying with and without health insurance. Stadiums are not pubic amenities, they are private profit centers. Civilization got by for thousands of years without pro baseball, football, whatever. A city can thrive and survive without them now. The sports economy is completely out of whack and it’s distorting our ability as a community to create and solve genuine public policy crises. Is being a fan more important than being a citizen? Look, you can have your baseball, all I ask is that you pay for it. I’m not asking you to pay my Netflix bill. I don’t mind doing a little street work around your stadium, or connecting it to my public transportation systems, but hundreds of millions of dollars is just out of whack.

  28. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 09/09/2009 - 01:19 pm.

    Mr. Foster, below is the text of the statute which specifically allows for exemption from a referendum as it was written at the time the tax was imposed. I can give you a link to the current statute (; however, note that it has been revised in the intervening years.

    297A.99 Local sales taxes.
    Subdivision 1. Authorization; scope. (a) A political subdivision of this state may impose a general sales tax if permitted by special law or if the political subdivision enacted and imposed the tax before the effective date of section
    477A.016 and its predecessor provision.
    (b) This section governs the imposition of a general sales tax by the political subdivision. The provisions of this section preempt the provisions of any special law:
    (1) enacted before June 2, 1997, or
    (2) enacted on or after June 2, 1997, that does not explicitly exempt the special law provision from this section’s rules by reference.

  29. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 09/09/2009 - 01:39 pm.

    Mr. Udstrand, it is fairly clear we are not going to agree on this issue.

    I will briefly say that my position is that I am a believer in representative democracy. Refernda are, generally, a cheap way for politicians to avoid doing the job to which they were entrusted. California is a splendid example of precisely why individual policy questions should not be decided by the masses. Additionally, your definition of corruption is far too broad for my tastes: nothing was hidden in the entire process. Just because you do not agree with how the govenrment has chosen to legally spend its money does not make the process corrupt. Finally, your argument that only voter ignorance kept the commissioners in office is arrogant and patently offensive to Hennepin County voters.

    I have no problem spending money on cultural projects, be they the Guthrie theater, libraries, museums, or sports stadia. Should they be done responsibly? Absolutely. Should we be giving out handouts? No. In this situation, however, the Twins and Hennepin County came up with an emminently reasonable plan (I was against all previous stadium plans, which were heavily weighted to the Pohlads) and went ahead with it. Whether a single extra dollar comes out of this or not, there will be value in the enjoyment citizens of Minnesota (not to mention the surrounding states) will get in enjoying an evening in a beautiful metropolitan setting watching their team play outdoors. (Note also that I have no problem with Joe Dowling raking in a hefty salary as director of the Guthrie.)

    Last point: I’ve heard you and countless others argue that as long as there are more significant problems in our society than indoor baseball — such as health care — baseball stadia should not be subsidized. The correct answer is that both problems should be solved. I would fully support a “corrupt end run” around the referendum issue to raise taxes again to support jobs programs, health care for the poor, etc.

    Also, with respect to movies — I’m fuzzy on the details, but didn’t Minneapolis help pay for Block E, which contains downtown’s only movie theater? I don’t have a problem with that, either (at least in theory; Block E is a design disaster and has other issues).

  30. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/09/2009 - 02:26 pm.

    Also, with respect to movies — I’m fuzzy on the details, but didn’t Minneapolis help pay for Block E, which contains downtown’s only movie theater? I don’t have a problem with that, either (at least in theory; Block E is a design disaster and has other issues).

    Sorry Dave, Block didn’t cost the public $300 million dollars, and the proceeds are not primarily funneled into one families pockets. Your argument just falls apart because the scale is so out of whack. Block E may or may not have been a wise public investment, but it wasn’t a several hundred million dollar welfare program for one family. Can anyone even imagine a proposal to raise $300 million for a theater or a museum? And if anyone did, I would be against it because it would be irresponsible public policy. Please, don’t be silly. Yeah, it would be great if addressed our public policy issues and built stadiums, that’s the point we didn’t, we just built the stadium. If you’re going to do one or the other, as we did, it was unconscionable to build the stadium. So while your enjoying your new 40,000 seat stadium next year, look around, all those people in those seats… that’s just about how many people are living without health care because we choose to fund the stadium instead of Minncare. You got your stadia, they got no health care, doesn’t that seem just a little backwards?

    As Hennepin county voters, you’re one insulting them Dave. Apparently you don’t think they’re smart or responsible enough to choose for themselves whether or not to fund a stadium.

  31. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2009 - 02:31 pm.

    “The law specifically allows exemptions to tax increase referenda; no law was “set aside;” in fact, the law was followed to the letter.”

    Thank you Mr. Eldred. So the statute doesn’t contain exemptions for stadiums or stadium like expenditures. Rather it provides that a special law could be enacted to set the statute aside. That, to me, makes “They literally had to bypass the citizens and set aside the law.” a fair and not inaccurate statement. Nobody really disputes that ballot initiative for a Twins sales tax would have failed, so the law did indeed have to be set aside, by a special act.

    “Refernda are, generally, a cheap way for politicians to avoid doing the job to which they were entrusted.”

    Well in this case, the avoidance of a referendum was a very expensive way to get involved in a matter not previously entrusted to them.

  32. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 09/09/2009 - 02:48 pm.

    Mr. Udstrand:

    Please reread my post. I specifically stated we should fund the new stadium AND health care.

    Your statement that there was — or ever would have been — a choice between the stadium and Minncare is disingenuous and misleading. Do you really believe that if the stadium wasn’t built, Minncare would not have been cut? Minncare comes from the state budget, which was not affected by the stadium funding. It would have been cut in either event, sadly.

    As far as the Block E argument being silly…no more silly than your suggestion that using public funds to pay for your Netflix subscription is akin to building a stadium.

  33. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 09/09/2009 - 02:54 pm.

    Mr. Foster:

    When one uses the phrase “set aside the law,” I get the impression that something either (a) illegal or (b) extraordinary happened — not that the precise letter of the law was followed. Apparently our semantics differ. I would agree that the referendum was bypassed by following the exemption explicitly set forth in the state statutes, however.

    I do not understand what the relevance is to the fact that stadia are not referenced in the statutes, nor do I understand your argument that the special law was “expensive” as compared to a referendum. I have no facts on what the cost of passing a law is, but I do know that referenda are not free. Perhaps you could post a link to some credible evidence supporting this argument.

  34. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/09/2009 - 03:07 pm.

    I’m sorry but I actually think this is kind of important. I also believe in representative democracy, that’s the point. With democracies you get the government you deserve, that’s why citizenship isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. You have to ask once and while who your government is representing? You can’t assume that just because everyone was duly elected whatever their doing is in your best interest. You can end up with perfectly legally elected governments that don’t represent their constituents. When you have a government that is literally incapable of doing the people’s business but somehow manages to do Carl Polad’s business you have ask who your government is really working for? Who’s really being represented? This is supposed to be a democracy, not an oligarchy. like it or not, when a democracy functions as an oligarchy it’s become corrupted. It may be duly elected, it may be working within the law, but it’s corrupt.

  35. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2009 - 04:32 pm.

    “I do not understand what the relevance is to the fact that stadia are not referenced in the statutes, nor do I understand your argument that the special law was “expensive” as compared to a referendum.”

    What I understood from your posting was that the stadium fell within an exemption in the tax law. But in the statute you quoted, there was no such exemption. Instead, another law had to be passed in order to set aside the existing statute, at least that’s not an unfair way to put it.

    The special law was expensive because it meant the building of a stadium and the imposition of additional sales taxes in Hennepin County, a move in itself, in view of the subsequent economic turmoil, seems now improvident and unwise.

    “I get the impression that something either (a) illegal or (b) extraordinary happened — not that the precise letter of the law was followed. Apparently our semantics differ.”

    Your impressions are of course your own, and I can’t question them, but they aren’t the only impressions possible. When the application of a law is suspended, by the passage of another law, I don’t think it’s unfair or unduly misleading to say that the first law was “set aside”, even if you would choose not to characterize it that way.

  36. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2009 - 04:41 pm.

    “I specifically stated we should fund the new stadium AND health care.”

    This isn’t a choice with which were presented nor was it ever likely to be. I think the choice we should have been presented with his how to get the maximum impact from tax dollars used for economic development. It’s hard to imagine a more inefficient use of tax dollars than in building athletic stadiums for professional sports. The jobs created within the community are low paying services jobs, which were already in plentiful supply. On the other hand, huge amounts of compensation go to athletes who have only a minimal presence in our community and take their money elsewhere. The Twins Stadium is essentially a funnel, directing Minnesota dollars from Minnesota to places like Florida, Texas, and Arizona, states that really don’t need the help they get from our struggling economy.

  37. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/10/2009 - 09:37 am.

    //Your statement that there was — or ever would have been — a choice between the stadium and Minncare is disingenuous and misleading.

    The Polad’s got every single penny they were promised for their stadium, everyone else got unallotted. That wasn’t an accident of history, a series of decisions and choices produced that result. Of course we made a choice between Minncare and stadiums, we made a series of choices as elected officials and citizens. And we should be ashamed of the outcome.

    OK, what’s done is done, so “play ball”. But let’s not forget this outcome or bury it under warm fuzzy nostalgia. We have a number of honest to god public crises to deal with and the billionaires still want another stadium. Let’s remember our priorities and make our government do the peoples business first and foremost. Let’s remember to be citizens instead of fans when it comes to making good public policy. I’m not saying no public money of any kind should ever go towards stadiums or arenas, but my god look at the scale, hundreds of millions of dollars is just flat out insane. All the public money spent on all the theaters, museums, fountains, whatever combined comes to a fraction of that spent on the stadiums. And there’s almost never more public money than private donations and investment elsewhere. Unlike the stadium the majority of the money for the new Guthrie came from private donations and investors for instance. Let’s not pretend stadiums and arenas are public amenities like any other, nothing else even comes close in size or scale, or concentration of profit. Joe Dowling? I’m guessing half the players on the Twins make more than Joe Dowling, and I know none of the actors make as much as anyone on the team, comparisons are simply ridiculous.

    We just need to get grip people. The next time some team threatens to leave we need say: “whatever”.

  38. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 09/12/2009 - 08:12 am.

    Mr. Grow’s enthusiasm is enjoyable but his long list of disclosures/conflicts is troubling and the piece is awkward reading, especially juxtaposed on MinnPost next to Jay Weiner’s set up for the next big public subsidy drive for the Vikings. According to Forbes, Carl Pohlad (RIP) rode a billion-dollar increase in his net worth (to $3.6 billion just before last Fall’s market crash) after Hennepin County bestowed $500 million on the Pohlad family business from the taxpayers. (The next Forbes list of wealthiest Americans should be out shortly). Forbes’ annual estimation of the value of MLB franchises also has charted an enormous increase in the value of the Twins since the stadium deal: The club is worth $356 million, Forbes said in April — exactly TWICE what it was worth three years ago. In that context, the “generosity” of the Pohlads in putting $55 million more into their heavily subsidized property is not charity. It is window dressing. I’m afraid my old chum Doug Grow was right the first time around: Huge public subsidies for private sports enterprises are bad policy and are economic blackmail

  39. Submitted by Dick Novack on 09/12/2009 - 10:25 am.

    Nowhere in the comments so far do I see a cynical comment that maybe Doug Grow published this particular article in a concilliatory attempt to get a real Pohlad interview for his book. Without that interview the book will be very flawed.

    So Doug, it is now 5 days since the article went up, do you have an indepth interview scheduled yet? I’d actually like to read the result.

    Of course there is always the likelyhood that members of the Pohlad family don’t read MinnPost. Why not drop a copy at Jim’s front door, maybe in a basket of Minnesota wine and cheese?

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