U, Twins stadium fortunes diverge 

U, Twins stadium fortunes diverge

They've been racing against year-end stadium deadlines since spring. The University of Minnesota will make it. The Minnesota Twins won't.
The result is further indication that the U football team will be the first of three sports supplicants to get approval for a publicly assisted stadium, although timing for final authorization is unclear and, depending on state Capitol politics, could move at a glacial pace.
The outcome clearly puts the Twins in second place for a stadium, and the Minnesota Vikings a distant third.
At the university Monday, officials said they expect TCF Bank to renew a crucial naming-rights agreement that would provide $35 million toward construction of a $248 million campus football stadium. The agreement is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, but officials were negotiating an extension Monday and were confident one will be hammered out in the next few days.
"We have every indication they'll do an extension,'' U chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said. "Our relationship with TCF on all fronts has been very good.''
The pact gives TCF exclusive banking arrangements on the Twin Cities campus, in addition to a name on the door. The 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium would be built on a surface parking area across from Williams and Mariucci arenas, merely a long throw from where Memorial Stadium sat for 68 years. That stadium was demolished after the Gophers began playing in the Metrodome in 1982.
Sixty percent of the cost would come from private sources such as TCF and from student fees. At last count, $52.5 million has been raised. The governor and legislators need to approve the other 40 percent.
"TCF and the university want the Legislature to do its job as soon as possible,'' said U general counsel Mark Rotenberg, who still hopes the governor will call a special legislative session to get the job done before the March 1 start of the 2006 regular session. The governor favors the U plan, but has shied away from calling a special session for political and procedural reasons.
University officials believe that quick approval at the Capitol would give potential donors and corporate sponsors the incentive to make their pledges, and that construction could begin soon afterward.
Meanwhile, the Twins and their stadium supporters on the Hennepin County Board were not optimistic Monday about the future of a $508 million ballpark in the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis, and neither had the confidence to try to extend a ballpark agreement that's scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
The Twins and Mike Opat, the board's lead stadium supporter, said the agreement will be allowed to expire because the Twins have battled to build a subsidized ballpark for 10 years and have been forced to go back to the drawing board each time.
"How many times can you push a rock up a hill?'' Opat asked rhetorically, in reference to the Greek myth of Sisyphus.
Opat and Twins officials said an attempt to revive the agreement in 2006 would be made only if Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders clearly said the chances of approval at the Capitol are very good.
"It's a treacherous political environment,'' Twins president Dave St. Peter said. Asked if the Twins are sufficiently frustrated by their stadium failures to consider relocating to another city, St. Peter said, "We've had zero discussions about that.''
The ballpark plan would be financed by a Hennepin County sales tax 0.15 percent, or 3 cents on a $20 purchase that would pay for three-quarters of the open-air stadium. The Twins would pay the rest, and receive all the stadium revenue.
The governor and Legislature need to approve any new sales tax, even a local one. As part of their Capitol request, the Twins and county officials have wanted an exclusion from a law requiring a local referendum on a new sales taxes contending a ballot issue would create delays and greater expense, even if it were to pass. Opponents say ballpark supporters' real fear is that residents would vote it down.
A legislative vote on the Twins and university projects has been delayed many months by protracted political fighting at the Capitol, first over balancing the state budget and then over an agenda for a special session that could be used to approve the U plan and possibly the Twins project.
The Vikings and Anoka County have put together a legislative proposal for a stadium in Blaine, but leaders at the Capitol say the Vikings will be the last team to get approval, in part because their plan envisions a greater local sales tax and greater state assistance.
That plan, less firm than the two others, could result in a stadium costing as much as $790 million when road improvements are included. As much as $230 million would come from the state and $280 million from a 0.75 percent county sales tax.

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