Hartman: Target Field's tax being paid down early, Opat says

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 21, 2013 - 12:28 AM

The Hennepin County commissioner said payments are ahead of schedule; tax benefits libraries and parks, too.

No doubt one person who played a huge part in getting Target Field built is Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who fought the battle to get a new home for the Twins as hard as anybody.

With the ballpark in the midst of its fourth season, it seemed like a good time to ask Opat if the finances connected with paying for the stadium are working as expected. Have there been problems raising money for Target Field like there are for the Vikings football stadium, where the projected income from electronic pulltabs isn’t being met and other alternatives to pay for it are being discussed?

“The ballpark, we’re paying our mortgage on schedule; in fact, we’re ahead,” Opat said. “That’s all good news. When we began the project, you’ll remember that we wanted to cap the cost of the project, so we did that at about $390 million, of which $260 million would be the county’s participation, plus another $90 million for infrastructure.

“So we had $350 million of public money [to go along with $185 million of private money invested by the Pohlad family] into it and we imposed a sales tax and we collect … roughly the mortgage payments are right around $20 million a year, a little less than $20 [million]. In addition the sales tax has generated, because the economy has rebounded a little bit, we’ve made $30 million in additional prepayments so we can retire this tax as soon as possible.”

Opat also pointed out that one of the benefits of the countywide tax for the stadium is that it creates an annual revenue of about $4 million, with $2 million of that going to keep city libraries open on Sundays while the other half is used for youth sports grants.

“Those are very important for some of the inner-ring suburbs in the city, where we can improve ball fields and work with school districts,” Opat said. “We’ve spent more than $11 million and made more than 68 grants to help restore ball fields, build soccer fields in neighborhoods that don’t have them, batting cages, playground equipment, tennis courts. We’ve done a lot of things that we wouldn’t have been able to do.”

The tax being collected in Hennepin County is three cents on every $20 spent.

“It’s interesting to follow the Vikings debate — and we had the same thing face us — is how will the public pay for it?” Opat said. “We could have had a more exotic menu of liquor taxes or try to get gambling taxes or hotel taxes or all the rest, and we tried to make it as straightforward as possible, though that didn’t lessen the controversy.

“But you can rely on the sales tax and that has proven to be true. It doesn’t diminish the fact that it was a heck of a fight, but it’s really working out well. I think we’ll be able to prepay this debt over time and get out of this business of the extra tax.”

Hennepin County has a large transit project being built near Target Field that will cost $70 million and is expected be done by the time the Twins open the 2014 season.

“We’re putting up a big parking facility as well as a major transit [hub] — we call it the interchange — and it will help people get there more easily and make the logistics easier,” Opat said. “But it is also going to be a space to be used year-round. There will be an entertainment performance area there and some shops and potentially some buildings and redevelopment, kind of another dividend of the ballpark in a part of town that wasn’t doing so well beforehand.”

Target Center delayed

Ted Johnson, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the Timberwolves, is optimistic that the needed remodeling of Target Center can begin soon with money provided by the city of Minneapolis, AEG (the firm that operates the arena), and the team.

“It’s actually in the lawyers’ hands, where we can’t agree on a little thing here or a little thing there,” Johnson said. “But we should get it done soon.”

Jottings

• On the final day of Vikings minicamp, coach Leslie Frazier was asked how long he thinks it will take quarterback Christian Ponder to get his timing down with first-round draft choice Cordarrelle Patterson and new wide receiver Greg Jennings. “Well, we have made a lot of progress in the time we have been out here,” Frazier said. “We run a lot of drills to work on timing. So I think we made progress and we are where we should be going into training camp.”

• One reason why the Twins were 6-3 on the recent homestand was the hitting of Ryan Doumit, who hit .291 with three doubles, four walks and two RBI. Doumit now has 18 RBI in the past 22 games and 24 of his 54 hits this season are for extra bases.

• Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said he believes Brian Dozier will be a good second baseman and “defensively he’s played pretty darn good out there. Offensively it has been inconsistent. The average [.234] isn’t where it needs to be and moving runners and bunting and all the stuff that comes with being a bit of a catalyst, they have to improve. We have a lot of faith that Dozier is going to turn into a good player, but there is still work to be done.” Dozier has recently shown signs the Twins’ patience might be paying off in a big way: He’s 6-for-16 with three home runs, two doubles, six runs scored and seven RBI in his past five games.

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