Minn. House approves Twins stadium finance bill

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota House gave the Twins
stadium hopes a big lift Wednesday, voting 76-55 in favor of an
open-air ballpark that would be paid for mostly by taxpayers.

The focus now shifts to the state Senate, where the proposed
increase in the county's sales tax could run into some early
trouble. The Senate Taxes Committee, headed by a lawmaker opposed
to the plan, will begin its deliberations on Thursday.

The downtown Minneapolis stadium project would cost $522 million
-- three-fourths from a higher Hennepin County sales tax -- and would
allow the Twins to leave the Metrodome, their home since 1982 and
the place where they've clinched two World Series crowns.

"We're overwhelmed by it," Jerry Bell, president of Twins
Sports, Inc., said of the vote. "It was more votes than we
expected." Bell was in the gallery during the voting and gave
high-fives to other team officials when the vote came down.

In the House chamber, one legislator had a baseball jersey
draped over his chair and another had a Kirby Puckett figurine on
his desk. Outside the chamber, Bell paced like an expectant father
during the debate that lasted more than seven hours.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad would be required to put $130 million
into the project upfront before the stadium opens and annual
payments for upkeep. They expect the building to generate $40
million a year for the franchise.

Even with House consent, there is no guarantee the Senate will
pass identical language on the stadium bill.

In fact, the chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee has hinted
he'll put forward an alternative financing plan. Sen. Larry
Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, has scheduled a Thursday hearing on
the bill. His committee is comprised of several lawmakers who have
expressed concern with the current bill.

If there are any differences, the House would have to vote again
once a compromise is struck.

If the bill passes this year, the Twins say the new ballpark
would open in time for the 2010 season.