by Lydia Howell
Walking into the downtown Meridian Hotel foyer, I felt like I was entering Donald Trump’s inner-sanctum boardroom on “The Apprentice”: high ceilings, long shadows and an atmosphere of expensive deference towards wealth.
Arrayed outside a banquet room lay the buttery pastries, mountains
of melon and strawberries, silver coffee urns of a continental breakfast. Inside,
I was one of a handful of women in a room full of businessmen. The only people
of color refreshed beverages and took away dirty dishes. What followed was a
presentation about Twinsville, the frontrunner proposal for a publicly funded
Twins stadium—and a lesson in how economic privilege and political power
On Forbes’ 400 Richest Americans list, Twins owner, banker
Carl Pohlad, is number 88, worth $2.1 billion; Vikings owner Red McCombs, is
number 224, worth $1.1 billion (McCombs made his money through Clear Channel’s
1200 radio station empire). If both men get their stadiums, taxpayers will pay
most of the $1 billion price tag.
Minnesota has a $4.7 billion state budget deficit which is
cited by Gov. Tim Pawlenty as the reason for spending cuts of $2.8 billion.
The cuts include a 20 percent cut from Jobs and Economic Development, 49 percent
from transportation, and 50 percent from funding for battered women and homeless
shelters. Across the state, hundreds of teachers are laid off. The healthcare
crisis escalates. Yet the legislature, county boards and city councils consider
Back at the Meridian,
Mike Sabo (son of Congressman Martin Sabo) made the familiar stadium argument
of “keeping baseball in Minnesota”—a hoax perpetrated against
“Pohlad’s letter of intent to sell was a red herring,”
writes Jay Weiner, Star Tribune and NPR sports commentator. His book
“Stadium Games: Fifty Years of Big League Greed and Bush
League Boondoggles” exposes the bluff. “There was never any real
chance the team would go.”
Tom Goldstein, publisher of the St. Paul based and nationally-respected
baseball quarterly, Elysian Fields, says the Twins have “no place to go.”
Washington State University economist Robert Fort’s study “Pay Dirt”
revealed Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s “contraction” threat
is a “bargaining chip [with] nearly zero chance of happening.”
“Contraction would decrease revenues for all team-owners,
so it’s a totally phony threat,” says Dan Dobson, co-founder of
No Stadium Tax Coalition. “Moving the Twins? Minneapolis-St. Paul is the
12th largest media market in the U.S.! They’d have to go to a SMALLER
market—Sacramento? North Carolina?”
Even in GOOD financial times, people voted this down! We’re
in bad times and they’re coming back?” Elizabeth Dickinson sounds
exasperated. The Green Party member is part of the anti-stadium group Say It
Ain’t So, Joe! “All those in favor of stadiums being a ‘public
good’ should look at other things more for public good. Making sure there’s
enough teachers for low class-sizes, raise children’s achievement scores.
Investing in preventive healthcare saves money. Public transit people rely on
to get to jobs, cutting down congestion, cutting pollution. These things are
more compelling than something for entertainment! Why are we considering stadiums
with so many absolute needs staring us in the face?”
Bucking Pawlenty’s claim that “no new state taxes”
will be used, Dobson says, “This is Pawlenty’s bait and switch.
He doesn’t talk about bar and restaurant taxes or new local sales taxes.”
The progressive DFLer quotes Pawlenty’s commentary (Strib 4/8/04) that
“unless you attend a sporting event or visit the host community, you won’t
pay anything” by countering, “That’s just not true. State
liquor tax—set to expire—would be extended with half going to the
stadium. That’s $400 million that would have gone back to taxpayers or
into state revenues paying for other things.”
Minnesota has a 6.5 percent sales tax, but St. Paul residents
pay 7 percent, the increase going to Xcel Center. The Hennepin County Board’s
four male commissioners support a sales tax hike for Pohlad’s new stadium.
The three female commissioners oppose it. Twinsville developers have lots of
taxes in mind: car rentals (including the airport), “hospitality,”
concessions, souvenirs. Players’ income taxes are diverted under a common
ploy: “tax increment financing.”
“That’s money corporations would spend on taxes
operating our city, going to paying off their loan,” Tom Taylor, the Green
Party candidate for District 59A State Senator, explains. “It’s
Taylor describes himself as formerly “the biggest baseball
fan” who was disillusioned by greedy owners and players. Taylor makes
analogies to developments proposed in Northeast Minneapolis: Cub on Central
Avenue. “These corporations set up shop and it allows the flight of capital.
Money spent there leaves the neighborhood, leaves the community. Whose ‘economic
development’ is this? Carl Pohlad’s! They always say ‘We don’t
want to be a cold Omaha—or Des Moines.’ They at least have transit
Promoters and the
Twinsville full-color brochure reframe Pohlad’s stadium as a “neighborhood-community
concept,” including retail and lavish housing components. This writer’s
first big warning bell was hearing that former Minneapolis City Council President
Jackie Cherryhomes is a “very excited” Twinsville booster.
Welcomed by Cherryhomes, former Ward 2 Councilmember Joan Campbell
and ex-Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton, big developers gorged on corporate welfare.
They created the continuing affordable housing crisis, while giving away city-owned
properties and subsidizing luxury condominiums. Mayor R.T. Rybak campaigned
on these issues, opposing stadiums and criticizing Sayles-Belton on housing.
Rybak’s record includes meeting with stadium supporters the day after
his election and pleading “budget crisis” to close 515 homeless
shelter while the Walker Art Center got a $25 million parking ramp. What kind
of priorities put parking cars above housing people?
How high could city-costs of “site preparation”
go? Well beyond the legal $10 million cap. Dickinson notes “hidden costs”
that municipalities carry.
“Like sewers. That’s 40,000 to 60,000 flushes a
game! You’ve got to upgrade sewers to accommodate that. Parking ramps
cost $10,000 per space. Parking for 10,000 cars equals $100 million!”
In City Pages, Tom Goldstein called publicly-funded stadiums
“extravagant shams perpetrated by wealthy team owners, abetted by politicians
who shill for them.”
Twinsville salesman Ron Ponach has big stakes in any deal:
his land at 2nd Avenue North, between 5th and 6th Streets, is the project site,
worth $6-15 million. Ponach explained “legislative process” at the
Meridian: “We’ve talked to 84 of 224 legislators, at least three
times each...we’ve been told the way to compete is put so much money out
there, St. Paul can’t compete.”
He was talking about at least $531 million, with little from
Pohlad. One stadium bill included $140M “upfront cash” from the
billionaire. Twins president Jerry Bell said, “That’s a deal-killer.”
Legislators rewrote the law so the money is termed a “commitment.”
Looking at Ponach’s parking lots, horizon of warehouses
inti-mating a disappeared industrial age, I think of the baseball fans I know,
mostly Baby Boomer and working-class men, many downsized to subsistence and
That chilly morning that I went to the Meridian, I was reminded
of summer afternoons, in a friend’s backyard, with Twins games on the
radio. The Crack of the bat, crowds’ roar, mingle with bees’ buzz
and warm breezes; invigorate memory of wordless bonds with dead fathers or the
sole truce between them. Remembering Vietnam vets I know, baseball might be
the only remnant of the once-hopeful boys sent to war. Excited sportscasters
evoke the 1950s and ‘60s when futures seemed wide open, more certain;
unions rising and democracy expanding. Some have endured homelessness. Most
juggle part-time jobs, bicycling through the bus strike. None have healthcare.
Baseball resonates magic and meaning that elites crassly manipulate.
Stadium deals described as “economic development” always promise
“Unless you’re a couple of blocks from a stadium,
you don’t get any benefit,” says Dickinson, who ran for St. Paul’s
City Council. “Adding jobs? They’re part-time and not living-wages!”
Economist Robert Baade’s 1994 study for the Heartland
Institute concluded “publicly-funded stadiums are not a sound civic investment...subsidies
do not benefit community as a whole, but rather benefit team-owners and professional
athletes.” Yet, the same conservatives who push for slashing human services
and who demand “self-reliance” for mothers open the public’s
purse for corporate welfare.
WCCO reported that Pawlenty’s 20-member Stadium Screening
Committee (SSSC) is stacked with supporters, like Newt Gingrich’s ex-aide,
Annette Meeks, of neo-conservative Center of the American Experiment (CAE).
Their “Minnesota Blueprint” (co-authored by Meeks) provides their
model for stadiums, using “Mall of America as an excellent example of
successful government role... support role rather than partnership or management.”
Did you know your taxes built roads, freeway exits and parking ramps, and Teachers’
Retirement Funds financed the construction of MOA? This is a case of voters’
money without voters’ decision-making.
SSSC Chairman Dan McElroy insisted “education, healthcare,
transportation are higher priorities than stadiums” for Pawlenty—claims
contradicted by budgets and SSSC’s existence. McElroy cited “privacy
laws” to decline naming SSSC rejected candidates, like longtime stadium-opponent
Ricky Rask, of Fund Kids First, who told WCCO, “They’re repeating
what they’ve done in the past now in a time of budget-cuts.”
Pawlenty made a PR move announcing his $20 million “End
Homelessness by 2010,” which doesn’t even fully restore his cuts
of meager annual $4.5 towards dealing with homelessness. Undisclosed is the
$34 million Pawlenty cut from Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. The Coalition
for the Homeless says the result is that half the eligible families were cut.
Unlike Forbes’ billionaires, they earn under $20,000 making them apparently
undeserving of public assistance.
There is the myth that a new stadium is an economic engine
for the surrounding area. The Metrodome inspired only one new business: Sports
Emporium. Jobs have actually been lost.
“To get out of paying even minimum-wage, Pohlad and Viking
Concessions use volunteers,” says Dobson. “Volunteers from Kiwanis,
Lions, JCs and baseball boosters work concessions for free and a portion of
the profits go to their groups.”
“This is not economic development. This is rich people’s
development,” says Taylor. “If it’s so important to have baseball
here, we should start talking about public ownership.”
Public-financing stadiums can be rejected. San Francisco voters
refused seven times and the Giants paid 90 percent of the new cost of their
new stadium. Minnesotans said no to Pohlad a few years ago and Dickinson’s
group has a petition drive to put stadiums on the ballot—exactly what
the Meridian men and their pocketed politicians want to avoid. Their brochure
“assumes legislation with no referendum.”
Intensifying pressure for a fast backroom deal, they claim
(without explanation) that one-year’s construction delay increases costs
$106 million and two years’ delay adds $179 million.
Twinsville backers’ biggest fear is that they are forced
to follow the law. Minnesota Statute 297A.99 requires any bond sales must be
put on a referendum to the voters in the next general election. Minneapolis
has a $10 million cap in local funds for “infrastructure only” costs.
Stadium opponents warn that an “exception” to these laws could be
buried in a bill, bypassing voters to allow legalized grand larceny at public
Exemplifying corporate arrogance, Twinsville management partner
Jim Braves told the ballroom audience, “It’s not over until we say
“Baseball is a protected monopoly. There’s no sense
in us subsidizing a mature industry with its own resources,” says Dickinson.
“Stadiums are a huge racket,” Taylor says after
enumerating neglect of Northeast’s toxic waste, poverty and small businesses
(which create the most jobs). “Shoveling more money into the fewest hands
is beyond me.”
The Dayton Study (available from Dobson’s Coalition)
concluded team owners can pay off stadiums within 12 years.
Twinsville’s Ron Pochan encouraged stadium boosters.
“People would be surprised. Legislators can be influenced by one phone
That’s a sentiment ordinary Minnesotans should follow,
given it’s their public services being slashed in favor of gifts to wealthy
team owners. A new stadium doesn’t even guarantee that the Twins will
stay. Major League Baseball won’t guarantee the Twins will fulfill a new
stadium’s lease and Pohlad won’t commit not to sell the Twins, even
for a stadium. The Metrodome hosts only 10 non-pro-sports events annually, so
a Twins pullout makes for a $531 million white elephant.
The late broadcaster Dave Moore called the Metrodome “a
monument to greed.” Minnesotans, raising voices and using votes, can refuse
to build another, hitting a homerun for democracy.
For more info on this story visit:
Say It Aint So, Joe! http://www.siasj.com