As Mr. Nelson noted in his post on Friday, there may be some reason to believe that the status of the Twins stadium is in some dire straits. This City Pages article (also linked Friday) seemed to signal major obstacles in the way of the Twins in breaking ground for their new stadium in the next few weeks, as had been previously planned.
Now, we didn't really go into details about why people should be worried on Friday. The basic premise concerning the situation is that the Twins officials and Minneapolis city officials have reached a roadblock in the negotiations with the investment group Landmark, Inc. that owns the land approved for the new Twins stadium, as named in last year's ballpark bill.
Currently, the problem is that the landowners and Hennepin County are far apart on the value of the 8.8 acres of land where construction is planned, and the City Pages article notes that "there's no reason to believe the dispute will be resolved soon." County tax records from 2006 assessed the land at $9.8 million, though the number has fluctuated over the last five years.
Part of the issue is that the county is limited in what it can spend on acquiring the land, as the money granted for purchasing the land is part of a larger $90 million (of a total $522, including $130 from the Twins) budget for land acquisition, site remediation, and infrastructure costs. They have offered $13.35 million now, but it appears that the negotiations are still stalled.
What are the options and how can this situation unfold? There are two ways, and one of them seems more likely. The most likely scenario is that the city officials resort to using eminent domain power to acquire the land. As some of you probably know, eminent domain is a pretty hot topic of political debate. Being a political science major and a potential law student (we'll see in about a month here), I have enough background to describe what this means.
Basically, eminent domain refers to government power (both state and federal) to acquire private property for public purposes and to give "just compensation" for it. (If you want to look this up for examples, there are several local cases recently, and more notably the 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London.) This power comes from the Fifth Amendment and in recent years, it has seen a lot of growth along with debate about its use. There are now many states, including our own, trying to pass laws limiting this.
Anyway, besides the problem of creating possible public outcry or scandal, as the use of this power is obviously frowned upon at this point, it also may not be the best financial option. The problem is that if eminent domain power is used, an agency needs to determine the "just compensation" given to the land owners. In other words, somebody needs to determine the market value of that land. It would seem that the county tax records are an obvious place to find this value, but that isn't necessarily the case.
Judges are the arbiters who ultimately decide what the value is. In this case, Hennepin county Judge Stephen Aldrich is the judge presiding over this case. The article notes that Aldrich asked both sides to submit names for a three-person panel to determine the value of the land, though he has not made any announcements yet. He also doesn't seem to hold too much sympathy for the county, as the ballpark law from last year specified no price for acquiring the land. As Aldrich said, "Am I to understand that none of the parties agreed to the price before getting legislative approval [for a ballpark on the site]? There was no price required?"
Aldrich did, however, agree to let condemnation of the land begin (necessary in the process of using eminent domain). This isn't an end, though, by any means, as Dan Rosen, an attorney for the landowners, remarked immediately after the hearing, "Either side could reject the commission's award." To translate: this is going to be a long battle and the battle in the courtroom is by no means over either.
What, then, is the other option? The only recourse for both sides to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom is for the county to simply pay the landowner's requested price. The article doesn't note what that price is, but Patrick Reusse mentions that the land owners have mentioned a price north of $50 million for "this few acres that rest in the shadows of the garbage burner." It's not a pretty picture.
With this news, it's worth asking whether the Twins will even be able to accomplish building their stadium by 2010, the date that seemed set in stone. The City Pages article says that "some of the issues tied up with the stadium remain in early planning stages, and by all accounts it will take a heroic effort to complete the park within three years." That's fairly depressing from all angles.
Needless to say, whatever road Hennepin County and the Twins end up going down, there are potential issues in the way of completing this stadium. Whether they acquire it directly or through eminent domain, they may pay too high a price for the land. As Mike Opat, the Hennepin County commision who has been the main architect behind the stadium plans, says, "If we can't get a price that's acceptable to the county ... we might have to walk away." Reusse believes this is a good idea, but a scrapped a plan would mean more delay on the project and would force the county to find new land to build the stadium on. If $50 million is the price, the county may want to take its chances with eminent domain.
Lets just hope it doesn't come to that.