Club after no place like Dome

April 29, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MINNEAPOLIS -- In a 12-month span in 1991-92, the Twin Cities were host to the World Series, Super Bowl, Final Four, Stanley Cup finals and U.S. Open golf tournament.

Back then, it was sports paradise.

Now, it's becoming sports hell.

The North Stars left for Dallas. The Timberwolves nearly moved to New Orleans. And now the Twins are starting to clamor for a new outdoor ballpark, or better yet, a dome with a retractable roof.

"We need Edward Bennett Williams around here to negotiate a deal here like he did there," club president Jerry Bell said yesterday.

That's right, the Twins want to duplicate the Camden Yards experience -- the whole experience, from the hijacking of public funds to the amassing of untold millions.

The Twins' "old" ballpark?

That would be the Metrodome -- constructed in 1982.

Build 'em up, tear 'em down.

And if the taxpayers object, see ya!

Bell presents a convincing argument for a new ballpark, but the Metrodome is about the same age as Macaulay Culkin, and the premise is just as obnoxious.

The Twins didn't complain about the Dome when they won the 1987 and '91 World Series. They're the only team in series history to capture a world championship without winning a road game -- and they did it twice.

"The Dome has certainly been an advantage in the past," said former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail, now the president of the Chicago Cubs. "But sometimes, on a beautiful June or July night, the fans' interests are elsewhere."

Indeed, times have changed.

Changed because of Camden Yards.

"Stadiums have become more than a place to play baseball," Bell said. "They have become kind of an entertainment destination."

In other words, a license to steal.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos said if the small markets wanted to keep their teams, they should build their own Camden Yards imitations.

And that's exactly what the Twins intend to do.

"I believe they clearly would benefit from having the type of situation that they've outlined," MacPhail said. "It would make a lot of sense."

No question, the Twins need more revenue -- they don't even keep their luxury-suite money; it goes to the Vikings.

Still, owner Carl Pohlad seemed content with improvements planned for the Metrodome -- until he visited Jacobs Field in Cleveland.

Indians owner Richard Jacobs reportedly showed Pohlad his financial records, and -- presto! -- the Twins wanted their own temple of greed.

An open-air facility?

Might be a problem, seeing as how the temperature was 5 degrees the morning of the scheduled home opener and the wind-chill factor was 29 below in the afternoon. A dome with a retractable roof?

Now you're talking -- for $300 million.

Try selling that to the taxpayers.

"In this economic climate, it's not going to happen," Bell conceded. "That's why we said we're looking five to 10 years down the road.

"If we're going to pursue it -- and right now, it's only one of the options -- it's incumbent on us to develop and present hypothetical financial plans."

The Metrodome is ill-suited for a retractable roof -- the playing surface was built underground and would not allow for the breezes necessary to keep players and fans and cool.

To finance a new park, Bell envisions a public-private partnership with heavy local corporate support for the usual suspects -- luxury-suite sales, premium seating and in-stadium advertising.

If only it were that simple.

The state recently bailed out the Target Center to keep the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, leading to a $2 surcharge on tickets for all arena events.

And if that's not daunting enough, public money might also be required to bring the Winnipeg Jets to Minneapolis as a replacement for the North Stars.

And so it has come to this in the Twin Cities:

In one week, new GM Kevin McHale called the Wolves the "laughingstock of the NBA," the team set a league record with its fourth straight 60-loss season and ownership raised ticket prices for the second straight year.

When does the madness end?

Twins fans aren't demanding a new stadium -- in a recent newspaper poll, 42 percent of all Minnesotans said they'd be more likely to attend a Twins game if played outdoors, but 25 percent said they'd be less likely and 30 percent said it made no difference to all.

But the Twins seem intent on forcing the issue.

After finishing last in 1990, they signed free agents Jack Morris and Chili Davis and won the World Series the next season.

This season, their big free-agent acquisition is Greg Harris, who was 3-12 with Colorado last year and opened the season on the disabled list.

No wonder their opening-night crowd was 26,425, the smallest ever for a home opener at the Metrodome.

"If we had an average payroll, it would put us out of business," Bell said. "The average payroll today is $30 million. We're not even close. And we're still losing money."

But that's OK.

It all fits the grand plan.

Pohlad has an escape clause under which he can move the Twins if they lose money or draw less than 80 percent of the average American League attendance for three consecutive seasons.

Benevolent soul that he is, Pohlad would never think of such a thing. Then again, he turns 80 in August. A new ballpark could increase the value of the team from $70 million to $125 million.

You figure it out.

EBW did, didn't he?

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