The land sale condemnation process for the Minnesota Twins new ballpark settled very little, but a November trial could be avoided based on the earliest indications. Despite an automatic 48-hour cooling-off period for arbitration proceedings, public comments made by both sides indicated that avoiding a trial was possible.By Jim Robins
The land sale condemnation process for the Minnesota Twins new ballpark settled very little, but a November trial could be avoided based on the earliest indications. Despite an automatic 48-hour cooling-off period for arbitration proceedings, public comments made by both sides indicated that avoiding a trial was possible.
With a three-member panel deciding Monday on a $23.8-million sale price for the 8-acre parcel on the northern edge of downtown Minneapolis, the decision comes much closer to the $17.23 million offered by Hennepin County than the $65.375 million value floated by land owners Land Partners II and Hines Interests, Inc. which holds an option on the property.
Most independent appraisers have estimated that the arbitration would come in close to $25 million, which is slightly higher than the Hines option price which is believed to be around $24 million. (News reports have indicated the option number at as low as $19 million and as high as $25 million.)
One of the central issues surrounding the debate is the cost of legal fees, and the $23.8 million arbitration figure is very close to the threshold for awarding lawyers’ fees to the land owners. A spokesman for Land Partners II-Hines indicated that their fees have already exceeded $2 million. A full-blown trial process could trigger legal fees in excess of $10 million, according to Rich Pogin of Land Partners II. The county is paying $320 an hour for its own private representation.
In any exclusive interview with ballparkdigest.com, Minneapolis Council member Lisa Goodman sent a strong signal to Hines Interests to settle the matter quickly. Goodman, who represents the ballpark site, said the arbitration award "seems fair" given that it is so close to the Hines option price.
"It’s time to move on — and if the land owners do not do so — they can forget coming back to the public for funding or financing for the North Loop development they claim to want to create on property they own surrounding the ballpark site," Goodman said.
The council member warned Hines against rejecting the award and spending "millions more on lawyers, then they have proven to us all this is not about building the best-possible stadium and creating development around it," said Goodman, who had favored going to public referendum throughout the legislative process but now views her role as creating the best venue at the lowest public cost. She said dragging out the process would be "about greed and taking advantage of the public in the name of baseball."
Minnesota law automatically awards attorney fees to plaintiffs in condemnation proceedings if the settlement is at least 40 percent higher than the initial government offer. Any settlement between 20 percent and 40 percent is negotiable under the law.
The county already has taken possession of the land (paying $13.755 million in escrow based on an earlier valuation), and ballpark construction has started. An official groundbreaking is set for Aug. 30 (rescheduled from Aug. 1 after the I-35W bridge disaster the same day).
The Minnesota Legislature set aside $90 million for land acquisition and site infrastructure costs. With the land sales price rising higher than the $13 million originally allotted, Hennepin County entered into an agreement with the Twins earlier this year regarding cost-overruns. The agreement is expected to remain secret at least until the condemnation award is finalized.