Minor league stadium proposal a hit with Burnsville

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2008 - 9:45 PM

City leaders said they like the idea, but they warned developers to cover all their bases.

A $27 million proposal to bring minor league baseball to Burnsville with a historic Twin Cities team and a new stadium met with guarded enthusiasm from city leaders, who will be asked to put taxpayer money behind the idea.

On Tuesday night, the City Council got a first look at sketch plans of a 7,300-seat stadium for the Metro Millers on 18 acres of a former dump near the intersection of Interstate 35W and Hwy. 13.

The concept would revive a team that folded when the Twins moved to Minneapolis in 1961 and bring the independent Northern League back to the metro area after the St. Paul Saints joined the American Association in 2005.

Project leaders at the meeting painted a picture of Burnsville as a place where children would grow up dreaming of playing for the Millers, and baseball fans across the country would recognize the city from daily scores.

"It's Minneapolis, St. Paul and Burnsville!" said Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, speaking of the city's prospective place on a list of Minnesota baseball hometowns -- as well as her long-held desire to put the suburb on the map.

But Kautz and other council members cautioned the developers to seek neighborhood input about noise and traffic, and to get their ducks in a row if they expect to have city approval in time to open the stadium by their target date in the spring of 2009.

Developers Tony Pettit of Lakeville and Terry DeRoche of Prior Lake say they have private equity and debt financing to acquire, develop and build the stadium. The investment group -- made up of Pettit, DeRoche and unspecified others -- will also own the Millers.

State law would prohibit some forms of public subsidy for the ballpark, but the developers want the city to pitch in with related road and sewer improvements using bonds that would be repaid from increased tax revenues resulting from development of the land.

City staff members have expressed doubt about the ambitious construction timeline, but the goal of throwing out the first pitch next spring is doable, said Clark Griffith, a Minneapolis lawyer and commissioner of the Northern League, the oldest of the independent minor leagues.

"It's not a very big stadium. Don't be confused by the Twins stadium," he said. "This is a suburban baseball park that will seat about a sixth as many people."

If the Burnsville stadium isn't ready by next spring, the team could play somewhere else in the meantime or, worst case, hold off until 2010, said project architect Dean Dovolis.

A baseball management team is already being assembled, DeRoche said, and player recruitment could begin in 60 to 90 days.

"If you can build the 35W bridge in less than a year, I guess you can do this, too," Kautz said.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

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