Minneapolis will cover Target Center losses, support new ballpark

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Sporting venues, past and present, dominated Minneapolis City Council debate Friday, as council members wrestled with the costs of keeping the Target Center afloat and the politics of building a new ballpark for Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad.

The council unanimously approved a measure that would allow the city to cover as much as $1.2 million a year in non-basketball operations losses at the Target Center, which it purchased in 1995 from struggling Timberwolves’ owners Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner. The decision, said Ward 8 Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, “is not something I’m happy about,” but because the city has dumped so much money into the arena, the council really has no choice but to keep bailing it out.

“It does bring up the question of how many entertainment venues the Twin Cities can support,” she said. Target Center has been struggling to compete with St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center for concerts and other non-sporting events.

The council’s hands are similarly tied with regard to the proposed Twins stadium. The state legislature last month approved a 0.15 percent sales tax to be levied in Hennepin County to finance the $500 million ballpark, despite overwhelming opposition to the tax in City Hall and among the public. Still, council members argued Friday that the city needs to be an active participant in the process of designing and building the facility.

To that end, the council approved the appointment of three people to the Ballpark Implementation Committee: council president Barbara Johnson; Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown; and former Ward 2 council member Joan Campbell.

Council Member Cam Gordon, who now represents Campbell’s ward, argued that the council was moving too quickly on the committee appointments and lamented the lack of a true stadium debate in City Hall. He ticked off a litany of city services that he considered more important than a new stadium—which he said would cost Minneapolis residents an estimated $9.8 million year for the next 30 years—and questioned whether the appointment process was “open and inclusive” enough. “We should’ve had some kind of discussion about this,” he said.

But Council Member Paul Ostrow, a stadium supporter, said that the legislature had acted and now it was time for the city to “make this the best ballpark in the United States.” He countered Gordon’s list of priorities by noting that the city’s libraries will be getting a slice of the funding each year—enough to add eight hours of operation a week in each of them.

Even opponents of public financing of the stadium argued that it was time to move on. Goodman said the issue of financing was “irrelevant” now that the legislature had acted. “Let’s get over it,” she said.

Her colleagues mostly agreed, voting 12-1 in favor of the committee appointments. Gordon was the lone dissenter.

Afterward, stadium opponent Dave Bicking said he was “absolutely disgusted” with the council’s action. He claimed that the appointment of Campbell signaled a return to the “bad old days” of developer giveaways. Campbell was on the council when the Target Center and other controversial development deals were struck.

“The public perception now is that the council has learned absolutely nothing from the time when they used to open their purse to developers,” he said.

In other action, the council:
• approved a grant agreement with the state for the further renovation of the Shubert Center;
• adopted the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for city buildings;
• approved on a 10-3 vote (Gordon, Hofstede, and Schiff dissenting) a liquor license for the new Hooters restaurant downtown;
• approved the sale of the Edison Hockey Arena to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board;
• accepted the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Central Corridor transit project;
• and authorized the hiring of an architectural firm to complete the West Broadway Alive master plan.

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