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Bad Faith?

February 18, 2007 10:25 PM

The land ownership conflict has now gone on much longer than anyone (including me) anticipated. I've thought all along that this is just hardball negotiating. But now I'm beginning to think otherwise.

Though I don't really have any inside information, reading between the lines is pretty easy. The landowners believe they have the county and the team over a barrel. They believe that the only way the park will get built is on their land. They believe that no one has the fortitude to go back to the legislature so soon. They also believe that, since the county has a cap on how much it can pay for the land (which it does), the Pohlad family should step up and write a check for the difference (which they could, but most certainly will not). The team is, after all, on the hook for all cost overruns.

land_icon.jpg

Who Owns What (Click for larger version. Source: Ballpark Authority)

The whole issue reveals what may be a fatal flaw in the legislation. I've written before about some weird clauses in that bill, and have always suspected that there was a time bomb ticking inside there somewhere. Now we know what it is.

The bill ties the county's hands, and explicitly gives the landowners everything they could have dreamed of. There's pressure to use the site (it's the only one allowed by the bill, save for the garbage burner site), there's pressure to get it done in a hurry, there's the clause putting the team on the hook for the added expense. Land Partners II could have written this bill.

The budget given to the county was probably based on a previous 2005 sale agreement which had expired. That agreement had specified a price roughly in the range of what the county now has to spend. My guess is that the number was tweaked at the Legislature for inflation, but assumed the landowners had named their price and would stick to it. That also assumed that Land Partners II would negotiate in good faith.

Setting aside all of the rhetoric in the paper (Sid's bluster isn't really helping), it's clear that the landowners are no longer negotiating in good faith. In fact, if this house of cards falls, Land Owners II will go down in history as the villain -- not the county, or the Ballpark Authority, or the city, or the Legislature, or the governor, or even the Pohlads.

I think the team has approached this site in good faith, as has the county. But I think the landowners have not. There are apparently 100 investors in this partnership, and it's time for the light of day to shine on these people. I'm sure that's the last thing they want, but it may come to that.

What's most insane about this is that they own a whole bunch of land around there which will become instantly more valuable because it sits so close to the new park (see the map above). They will make out like bandits even if the county is able to enforce the currently assessed price through eminent domain. The level of greed on display here is staggering.

People have been asking me if I think this issue will scuttle the whole project. I'm inclined to say that it won't, primarily because there is a fine solution available if only cooler heads would prevail. If you know someone who has ownership in this partnership, now's the time to give them a call. Some of the names are very well known. That type of pressure could be useful.

Beyond that, I suspect the county has some maneuvers available which can expedite the condemnation and let the project get started with only a six or nine month delay. That's totally bearable. Even a whole year delay wouldn't be all bad (though the Twins will have to get another extension on Mauer's contract).

One final note: I've always thought that the Rapid Park site would be a great place for a ballpark. But it's hardly the only place available, and it might not even be the very best place. Some of the limitations of the site have become visible now that design and engineering work has actually begun. Without any effort, I can think of half a dozen other sites which would be equally as good -- or better. The county may well have the ability to get a technical change to the law passed which changes the site. Certainly, some legislators would try to block it, but it might not be as hard as you think. For one thing, the tax is already in place, and nothing about the funding mechanism would have to change. That's always been the most controversial aspect of the whole project (lack of roof notwithstanding).

In other words, I do not believe it is a foregone conclusion that the park will go on the Rapid Park site regardless of cost. If that's what Land Partners II is banking on, they are making a huge mistake. It's time for them to negotiate in good faith and get this mess behind us.

Comments


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"I think the team has approached this site in good faith, as has the county."

I'm not so sure that the county has negotiated in good faith here either. From what I recall, the previous land-purchase agreement was for $13 million plus 5 acres of land nearby, and that was a few years ago when that was worked out. I have no inside knowledge, but I wouldn't be surprised if that works out to $20 million or more in compensation depending on inflation and how much that other land was worth. But the only number I hear coming from the county is $13 million, which is too small to start with, since that wasn't enough buy the land 4 years ago.

No one really seems to know who started being unreasonable, or if one side started off wrong and the other side felt they had to escalate things to retaliate, but from my point of view, neither side looks like they are in any position to reach a reasonable compromise.

Personally, I'm not that worried, as I think this shoe-horned stadium will have me and many other fans yearning for the good old days in the spacious Metrodome location. I say pull out of this and put it on the Kmart lot on Lake St.

Posted on February 20, 2007 at 1:02 PM by Craig in MN Highlight this comment 1

Craig, can I ask what is so great about having a spacious location like the Metrodome? Some of the best ballparks in U.S. history are, or where urban based ballparks that were in the middle of neighborhoods and 'mom & pop shops.' Putting a new park in the middle of a giant parking lot loses it's charm, in my opinion.

Posted on February 20, 2007 at 7:50 PM by tito Highlight this comment 2

There's nothing necessarily great about spaciousness, parking lot variety or not. But one of the few great things about the Metrodome is the plaza and the room to get around.

The EZpark area is extremely tight as it is, and is surrounded by freeways, raised roads, narrow sidewalks, the garbage burner, and parking ramps. Its just not pedestrian friendly at all, and it's not even a neighborhood...it's an industrial/parking lot/parking ramp/freeway mix. And now they are going to squeeze a stadium and two rail lines and some service docks, etc, into that spot. And they are planning on building a huge fence/wall on the light rail side so that people can't cross the street illegally there (that's the most likely direction for mom-and-pop shops in my mind, but it might be like escaping from Guantanamo to get there). The only real open area in any plan I see is the plaza that leads to the hideous rear-end of the Target Center, between two parking ramps. I guess there is the parking lot just south of there, but it doesn't look like they have any plans to do anything interesting there either.

I just can't imagine that area to be a pleasant one to get into, to get out of, or to hang around in, because they are packing too much into a location so small that they can't make the amenities work outside of the stadium. The inside of the stadium might be really open and great, but outside is going to be a nightmare. Maybe I just don't like traveling in crowded narrow walkways with limited other options, like I am heading into a slaughterhouse, but I suspect many Minnesotans will agree with me.

I'm all for a neighborhood park, but I'd rather put a stadium in a real neighborhood where it would actually fit. KMart is in real neighborhood, and a stadium wouldn't be so cramped there, and there are tons of mom-and-pop stores already there in any direction. I've always thought the Sears location by the State Capital would be great too.

Posted on February 21, 2007 at 07:43 AM by Craig in MN Highlight this comment 3

Actually I don't think the Twins are on the hook for any land/infrastructure overages, only for construction overages.

Also think about it, if the Twins had to pay for anything over $90 million for land/infrastructure the County would have entered into condemnation weeks ago as they wouldn't care what the land cost was, the Twins would have to pick up the difference.

Posted on February 21, 2007 at 1:05 PM by Freealonzo Highlight this comment 4

It'd be interesting to see exactly what the language obliging the Twins to pay overages says.

I can't imagine it obliges the Twins to pick up every overage, no matter what - otherwise (as Freealonzo notes) there'd be no incentive for the County, etc. to work to hold down costs in any area.

I suspect the Twins are liable for overruns which could not be avoided because we're talking in 2006 about building something 3 or 4 years from now.

I suspect it's another matter entirely if the County's actions (whomever) were the cause of the overrun.

Posted on February 22, 2007 at 12:36 PM by BD Highlight this comment 5

Did you see KARE's segment about the ballpark earlier this week? Mr Opat is the typical Minnesotan know-nothing know it all. He would not admit to Mr Douglas that he screwed up this deal in the first place. Frankly, I'm tired of this mess. Hello Las Vegas Twins!

Posted on February 22, 2007 at 8:45 PM by JK Highlight this comment 6

JK...Do you think there was a chance that the Kare 11 piece was at all biased in favor of the Land Owners?

Posted on February 22, 2007 at 10:52 PM by MOJO Highlight this comment 7

i am doing a project on this stadium for civics, and i have reviewed way to much for a 9th grader for a place were we are going to play ball.
i think this whole stadium is blowed way out of porportion, and to tell you the truth you should get off your comps and relize it is sports.

we should knock down the old one, and put up the knew one.
we should ppay so much money for this new land.
they need more money than it is worth.
we should just not do anything with this stupid stadium, its annoying, and whats the point?

its sports.
America is way to obsessed.
and i have to get a grade on it.

Posted on February 23, 2007 at 08:31 AM by madi Highlight this comment 8

The Kare 11 piece is obviously the landowners POV, but is also pretty straight forward. The land owners are willing to let the county take the land and let the courts decide what is a fair price. The county is basically saying that between the laws of how they can take the property and the way the stadium legislation is written, they can't get the land to start building and obey the law without the land owners accepting less than what they think is fair. The problem is primarily the bad lawmaking, not the bad land owners.

Posted on February 23, 2007 at 12:58 PM by Craig in MN Highlight this comment 9

Craig,

I think you've hit it on the head. Bad law-making is the real culprit here. So there is probably some embarrassment at work because both the county and the Twins helped craft the law from the beginning and must therefore take their share of responsibility for the problem.

On the other hand, and this is at the heart of my thinking, the land owners have chosen to greedily exploit the Legislature's error. While it is fully within their right to do so (some would say it's the American Way), trying to squeeze this mistake -- and the taxpayers -- for tens of millions of dollars, after having made other real or implicit deals all along, falls under the heading of bad faith negotiating.

Rick

Posted on February 23, 2007 at 1:31 PM by Rick 10

I really don't think they are really trying to squeeze tens of millions out of the government. I think that they think that if the county had bought the land 2 years ago under the deal they had worked out, their compensation for that would be worth about $25 million today, so that's what they really want. The county has appraised the land at $13 million and want to pay that. So the landholders asked for nearly $40 million, thinking that they would negotiate, meet in the middle and get about what they think the they deserve. If they are right about that $25 million number, that's not bad faith....that's just negotiating. Maybe offering to let the courts decide the price isn't fair, given the time constraints, but what else can they do?

Personally, I think they should volunteer to go to binding arbitration to determine a price and use the same structure as they for MLB players. The can do that in practically no time, and both sides seem to have their reason to do that. I think the land owners would ask for about $25 million, the county would suggest about $20 million, and I have no idea who would win. But if the county can't make it work with that, it's not the landowners fault.

Posted on February 23, 2007 at 8:11 PM by Craig in MN Highlight this comment 11

i am dumb, i dont know what i am talking about, i am retarted

Posted on February 25, 2007 at 12:23 AM by madi Highlight this comment 12

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This is the revised version of the center field pavilion (without the restaurant). It looks like there are no seats, just some ledges for people to sit on. It reminds me of the seating on the "bridge" which sticks out of the new Guthrie Theater. Anything which lands in the trees will presumably be a home run, so the "411" sign is apparently just for fun.



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