By BRIAN BAKST, Associated Press Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota House gave the Twins stadium hopes a big lift Wednesday, voting 76-55 in favor of an open-air ballpark that would be paid for mostly by taxpayers.
The focus now shifts to the state Senate, where the proposed increase in the county's sales tax could run into some early trouble. The Senate Taxes Committee, headed by a lawmaker opposed to the plan, will begin its deliberations on Thursday.
The downtown Minneapolis stadium project would cost $522 million -- three-fourths from a higher Hennepin County sales tax -- and would allow the Twins to leave the Metrodome, their home since 1982 and the place where they've clinched two World Series crowns.
"We're overwhelmed by it," Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports, Inc., said of the vote. "It was more votes than we expected." Bell was in the gallery during the voting and gave high-fives to other team officials when the vote came down.
In the House chamber, one legislator had a baseball jersey draped over his chair and another had a Kirby Puckett figurine on his desk. Outside the chamber, Bell paced like an expectant father during the debate that lasted more than seven hours.
Twins owner Carl Pohlad would be required to put $130 million into the project upfront before the stadium opens and annual payments for upkeep. They expect the building to generate $40 million a year for the franchise.
Even with House consent, there is no guarantee the Senate will pass identical language on the stadium bill.
In fact, the chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee has hinted he'll put forward an alternative financing plan. Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, has scheduled a Thursday hearing on the bill. His committee is comprised of several lawmakers who have expressed concern with the current bill.
If there are any differences, the House would have to vote again once a compromise is struck.
If the bill passes this year, the Twins say the new ballpark would open in time for the 2010 season.