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Monday, August 27, 2007

Landowner appeal pauses ballpark deal

Monday's ruling by independent panel will be appealed By Jess Myers / Special to MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- While plans go forward for a ceremonial groundbreaking next Thursday at the site of the Minnesota Twins' future ballpark, the current owners of the property will have to wait a few more months before learning what they'll be paid for the land.

On Wednesday, the landowners informed Hennepin County that they will appeal Monday's ruling by an independent panel that the land is worth $23.8 million. In the past, the landowners have sought more than $60 million for the parcel of land, which sits just north of Target Center in the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis.

At least one official from Hennepin County, which has taken the land via eminent domain and offered to pay $13.75 million for the parcel, said that the appeal was expected.

"We've played it the way we're supposed to and have followed the recommendation of the panel," said Hennepin County commissioner Linda Koblick. "The commissioners have met and done their job. We're not pleased with it, but the landowners aren't pleased with it, either. So the appeal doesn't surprise me. It's within their right."

Others with the county expressed disappointment that the landowners would not accept the panel's ruling.

"We thought this was about a fair process," said Hennepin County commissioner Peter McLaughlin. "Get the facts out and make a fair decision. There was a three-person panel who looked at it, which is what I thought [the landowners] wanted. Now they're going to appeal. It's disappointing. But we'll keep moving forward."

Aron Kahn, a spokesperson for the landowners, noted that work on the ballpark project, including the Aug. 30 groundbreaking ceremony, will not be delayed, but the landowners will exercise their right to appeal for a better price for their property.

"An appeal is part of the process," said Kahn. "When public entities take private property, the owners have the right to contest the amount, and that's what they intend to do."

The appeal will likely mean a jury trial sometime later in the year. On Monday, the independent three-person panel appointed to study the dispute and set a price for the land delivered the $23.8 million ruling, but only two of the three panelists signed the report. Larry Tucker, a licensed real estate appraiser on the panel, filed a dissenting report with the county, saying that the land was worth more than $33 million, in his opinion.

That dissenting opinion is expected to be the basis of the landowners' appeal. Koblick, who previously voted against using county sales taxes to partially fund the ballpark, said Tucker's actions were unexpected.

"Filing a minority opinion doesn't surprise me if it's a Supreme Court decision, but I think this was taken to an extreme," said Koblick, who represents several communities in western Hennepin County.

Content to concentrate their efforts on baseball and preparations for the groundbreaking, Twins officials said that they're letting the county deal with the land issues.

"We are committed to and focused on the design and construction of the ballpark, and that work is ongoing," said Kevin Smith, the Twins' vice president of public affairs. "Our county partners are working through the process regarding the land acquisition. As they do so, we prepare for the groundbreaking, which will signal that work will begin in earnest on the new facility."

The new open-air ballpark is expected to be finished in time for the 2010 baseball season, and will replace the Metrodome, which has been the home of the Twins since 1982.


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