A plan to marry Twin Cities baseball past -- the Millers of minor league baseball -- with a new ballpark in Burnsville to create a new regional attraction will be introduced tonight.
That's when the Burnsville City Council will get its first look at a proposed $27 million, 7,300-seat stadium for the Metro Millers, which would also bring the independent Northern League back to the metro area.
The developers, Tony Pettit, 30, of Lakeville, and Terry Deroche, 62, of Prior Lake, say they have private equity and debt financing arranged to acquire, develop and build the 13-acre project on a former dump site at the intersection of Interstate 35W and Hwy. 13.
But they want the city to underwrite related road and sewer improvements using bonds that would be paid back with increased tax revenues from the appreciating land.
The Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently authorized Burnsville's use of tax-increment financing (TIF) for a new mixed-use development in the area.
In 1998, the state authorized a special TIF district for the development of an amphitheater, but that project foundered amid environmental concerns. The new legislation repeals the older TIF district.
"We're asking for zero money from the government to help with the project other than public improvements," said Pettit, who has options to buy some of the land. "The Northern League wants us to be ready by 2009."
Clark Griffith, a Minneapolis attorney and son of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith, is commissioner of the Northern League, the oldest of the independent minor leagues. He said the league is looking to expand from its current six teams to 10 teams.
"This is an excellent opportunity," he said Monday. "One of the most important things for me is the support of the city and the promoters."
The Twin Cities metro area is an "obvious choice" for a new team, Griffith said, because of the Northern League's history here. The St. Paul Saints were part of the league from 1993 until 2005, when they joined the American Association. (The Saints have the second-highest average attendance per game, about 6,200, in the independent minor leagues.)
Love idea, worry about details
The developers are pushing Burnsville to help them meet the 2009 deadline -- a goal that may not be feasible, according to city staff members.
But several City Council members said they love the idea of a stadium that would draw visitors and their money to the city, help revitalize industrial land near the Minnesota River and provide affordable entertainment where families could spread picnic blankets on the grass and root for a hometown team.
"'We've got a long way to go, but on the surface, from what I've seen, it's one of the most exciting projects to come to Burnsville in a long, long time," said Dan Kealey, a City Council member.
Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said the stadium proposal comes in the midst of major civic efforts -- including construction of a $20 million, publicly funded performing arts center -- to turn Burnsville into "the metropolitan city south of the Minnesota River."
The stadium would be built in a 1,700-acre chunk of the city along the Minnesota River where poor soil and intensive industrial use have created a development challenge for city leaders seeking to redevelop the land after activities such as quarrying end.
Pettit, whose 73-year-old father played minor league baseball, said he and Deroche, a small-scale developer of hotels and other land projects, have spent two years on the ballpark proposal. They plan to acquire up to 200 acres for office and retail developments near the proposed ballpark.
Northern League teams play 96-game seasons during the good-weather months.
Touch 'Em All Sports, a limited liability corporation formed to own the Metro Millers, essentially would succeed the old Minneapolis Millers team, which started in 1884. The team spent 60 years at Nicollet Park on Lake Street in south Minneapolis before moving to the former Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
The Millers folded after Calvin Griffith brought his American League baseball to Minnesota from Washington, D.C., in 1961. The Twins moved to the Metrodome in 1982.
A lucrative market
The developers say there are more than 1 million people within 8 miles of the busy Burnsville intersection, just across the Minnesota River from Bloomington. And the demographics are similar for other successful Northern League cities, where 65 percent of households have an income of $75,000 or less, and 82 percent of residents are younger than 50.
The developers have retained DJR Architecture of Minneapolis. Pettit said the stadium construction would include recycled building materials, powered by a wind turbine that would generate enough juice to feed power into the electric grid most of the time.
City Council Member Dan Gustafson said the stadium would help Burnsville offer the best of suburban and city life.
"Burnsville is a good suburban community, and we're fortunate enough to have a downtown, and we're fortunate enough to have some of the amenities that the core cities have as well," he said. "But we still get to go home to our suburban neighborhoods. Not everybody gets to do that."