Stadium land feud ends with cost stretching to $29 million

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2007 - 8:58 PM

Hennepin County and the landowners avoided court, and Twins owner Carl Pohlad will kick in another $15 million.

A $29 million deal to buy eight acres ended a dispute that stood in the way of the new Minnesota Twins ballpark, but came at a price of improvements to the surrounding streetscapes, Hennepin County leaders announced Monday.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat called the price $28.25 million, but with interest the number climbs close to $29 million -- more than twice the county's original offer of just more than $13 million.

The deal came after two weeks of talks led by retired Hennepin County District Judge Rick Solum between the county and Land Partners II, a limited liability company of some 100 property owners.

"Now we can focus on building this iconic ballpark for the future," Twins spokesman Kevin Smith said.

Opat, the county leader on stadium issues, also revealed for the first time that in addition to the $130 million already pledged by the Twins toward the ballpark construction, the Pohlad family, which owns the team, will provide another $15 million for infrastructure. The additional Pohlad contribution wasn't connected to the land deal, according to Opat.

All sides said they were relieved if not satisfied with the deal. The land settlement means a time-consuming and expensive trial scheduled in November will be averted. To save money, the county will forgo some planned street improvements in the Warehouse District around the stadium, such as plantings, new streetlights and repaving.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the settlement amount didn't please anyone, but "it's done. It's over."

Since last year, Hennepin County, which is providing the major funding for the stadium through a countywide sales tax, has been trying to reach a price with the landowners after acquiring title to the property through condemnation. County officials initially offered $13.35 million for the parcel. By a 2-1 margin, a three-judge condemnation panel announced its decision in August of a $23.8 million award.

But a formal appeal led by Land Partners II, a limited liability partnership, asked for $65 million.

The deal came together late Friday and District Judge Stephen Aldrich already signed off on the amount. The board doesn't have to vote on the mediated deal.

Standing next to Opat at the news conference were County Commissioner Penny Steele, who voted against the tax, as well as Board Chairman Randy Johnson and Commissioner Mark Stenglein, who had supported it.

A subdued Opat said, "We're happy to have reached settlement and be able to move on with the ballpark project."

Aron Kahn, spokesman for the landowners, said they "look forward to a wonderful, new ballpark in the Warehouse District, certain to be among the best transit-oriented stadiums in the nation."

But Opat said he wouldn't seek to do business again with Land Partners II. "We've had to go through a lot of effort for what should have been a simple agreement," he said. "We're relieved. Overjoyed? Certainly not. The public paid too much for this."

Kahn responded, "Mr. Opat is bitter about it. He has political reasons for being so."

Condemnation laws as well as politics created problems for the county in negotiations. In order to get a bill through the Legislature, the county had to present a site-specific proposal, even though it didn't control the site.

Even without some of the streetscape improvements, Smith said the stadium is currently on time and on budget. "What happened today was all doubt was removed," he said. The team is responsible for ballpark cost overruns.

In exchange for the additional contribution by principal team owner Carl Pohlad, the Twins get the development rights to a couple of acres of land near the park. The team holds the rights for 15 years and the county would share in any profits, Opat said.

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