Plans for new Twinsballpark up in the air

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February 12, 2007 // UPDATED 11:01 am - April 26, 2007
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

County officials are delaying key votes on ballpark plans this month, saying the North Loop site has so many difficulties it may be worth looking at another site.

“There are just too many things that have not been nailed down yet,” Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said. “We don’t own the land, we don’t have final commitments from the city of Minneapolis for infrastructure components ... we have some other design elements we need to know, and some details left to negotiate with the Twins.”

The next step in condemnation proceedings for the ballpark land is the Hennepin County District court’s appointment of a panel that will determine the land’s value.

According to Dan Rosen, attorney for the landowners, the county could take control of the land at any time by paying its $13.35 million appraisal now. The final sale price would be determined later by the panel, he said.

Opat said the county has not chosen to move forward with the hearing before a court-appointed panel. He said the land price determined through that process could end up being higher than the county can afford.

“We would prefer to negotiate [privately], which saves time and attorneys’ fees,” he said. “We were hoping for a negotiated settlement, we’ve attempted a negotiated settlement, we’ve been met with unreasonable resistance, and so we’re just in a waiting mode right now until we decide if we’re going to continue on the site.”

Opat said the county is talking to the Twins about their appetite for handling cost overruns in the land price and some infrastructure costs. The estimate of cost overruns changes from day-to-day, he said.

“As we march on here, the price keeps mounting,” Opat said, noting that county officials are still committed to building a ballpark in Hennepin County. “At some point you have to decide there’s got to be another site that works and isn’t this expensive and doesn’t bring so much hassle.”

Additional challenges at the moment include funding for the agreed-upon Cedar Lake Bike Trail that will run alongside the stadium. Opat said the city has not committed to funding the trail.

Another cost to be determined is the size and span of the 6th Street pedestrian bridge proposed to cross over Interstate 394.

According to Chuck Ballentine, deputy coordinator of the Hennepin County Ballpark Project Office, the 6th Street bridge plans are larger now than the original proposal.

“The 6th Street bridge is more and more becoming the front door to the ballpark and we want to maximize its size,” said County Ballpark Coordinator Rick Johnson.

Alternative methods of entering the ballpark via elevators and stairwells were not palatable to some members of the Ballpark Implementation Committee, a group charged with approving the ballpark site plan.

“If the bridge isn’t built there is no pedestrian access,” said City Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward). “It would be the number one thing for the $90 million.”

A conversion to two-way traffic on 2nd Avenue appears to be the best option for mitigating the impact of closing a portion of 3rd Avenue between 5th and 7th streets, county ballpark planners said. City staff are studying how far the two-way access should extend and how the lanes should be configured.

Another ballpark issue of scrutiny last week related to a two-story structure south of 7th Street proposed to feature private parking for the Twins and club seat ticket holders.

“This would be a wild underutilization of that land,” said David Frank, an Implementation Committee member and North Loop resident.

Johnson said ballpark planners discussed additional development on top of the garage with Hines Interests, the developer proposing a series of condominium and retail buildings spanning from 5th Street to Washington Avenue. Johnson said Hines’ reaction to further development was “very lukewarm.”

“I was surprised,” he said.

Goodman suggested that perhaps the upper deck of the garage could host soccer fields or the displaced volleyball courts.

The ballpark’s schematic design was scheduled to be on display in the Crystal Court of the IDS Center from Feb. 16-27, but whether the display goes up or not is at the discretion of the Twins.

“We’re not ready to start showing the public a design that we’re not sure we should support or build,” Opat said, noting the design could include aspects they cannot really afford. “That’s the Twins’ call, we think that’s unwise, and that’s not something the county will be part of.”