Law Allows Builders an Out During Ballpark Construction

Sat December 30, 2006 - Midwest Edition
CEG



MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The fast-track plan to build a new Minnesota Twins ballpark in downtown Minneapolis allows a special oversight committee to avoid traditional government scrutiny.

The law providing for the open-air stadium allows project overseers to take the Minneapolis City Council to court if it does anything that “will result in delay from the time frames established in the planning and construction timetable.”

In addition, the Metropolitan Council, a regional planning agency, won’t have its usual reviewer role, and on-site work can begin before an environmental impact statement is complete.

“It was just another one of these little slimy things, slipping under the carpet,” said Laura Lehmann, an organizer with Citizens Against Stadium Taxes.

But Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said other public projects in the Twin Cities, including the new Minneapolis Central Library, have had similar “alternative” approval methods.

Most of the ballpark will be paid for by a county sales tax increase that takes hold Jan. 1. It amounts to 3 cents extra on each $20 purchase.

The goal is to have the 42,000-seat stadium ready for the 2010 season.

Minneapolis officials were involved at the Legislature in the negotiations that led to the altered process. City Council President Barbara Johnson, who sits on a 10-member Ballpark Implementation Committee, said the faster process was not meant to quell dissent.

The city council, she added, “wanted the ballpark in Minneapolis.”

But others said they were caught off guard by the extent of planners’ powers.

“I don’t think anybody understood it was fast-tracked,” said County Commissioner Linda Koblick, a frequent opponent of the ballpark plan. She said the legislative changes mean “we’re taking rights away from the city on zoning and land use.”

The project schedule suggests that Hennepin County should acquire the land for the ballpark by March, utility relocation should begin in April and actual construction should commence by September.

By the end of this year, there should be a drawing showing how the building would be positioned on the property, said Rick Johnson, the county’s stadium project coordinator.