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Dome landlord, Twins near settlement

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Action on a settlement that would keep the Minnesota Twins in the Metrodome another year probably won't occur before next week as lawyers on both sides of the lawsuit put the details on paper, one official said today.

Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, said the public board's attorneys were working on a response to a written agreement forwarded to them Wednesday by major league baseball. A few discrepancies still need to be resolved, Lester said.

"I'm always reluctant to guarantee there won't be a stumbling block," he said.

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The framework of the settlement was forged on Tuesday, but the stadium commission postponed a vote Wednesday on the deal until it was in writing. Baseball owners, meeting in Chicago, also held off on a vote. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said owners were on board.

"I think all parties have signed off except them," Selig said, referring to the facilities commission, which initiated the lawsuit.

Joe Anthony, a Minneapolis-based attorney for the league, said stadium commission members should accept the deal because it's the only sure bet for saving baseball in Minnesota.

"The commission isn't giving up anything. They're getting a gift," Anthony said. "We're giving up a lot."

Under the settlement, the commission would drop a lawsuit against the Twins and major league baseball in return for a guarantee that the Twins would play in the Metrodome at least through 2003.

The commission won an injunction that forced the Twins to honor the final year of their lease and play this year, derailing baseball's contraction plan.

The commission pressed on and claimed that owners, by threatening to disband the Twins, illegally interfered with its ability to forge a long-term lease with the team. The case is scheduled for trial in August before Hennepin County District Judge Harry Crump, who made the earlier ruling against baseball.

As part of the case, the commission demanded that the Twins and baseball turn over financial documents and internal papers related to contraction. The demand would be dropped under the settlement.

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The Associated Press, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and KARE-TV have sought access to 9,000 documents the Twins already turned over, most of which have been marked confidential.

In a letter to commission attorneys Thursday, John Borger said the media organizations he represents won't abandon their pursuit of the documents if a settlement is reached.

"Those matters are now aspects of this case that cannot and should not be mooted by whatever agreements the commission may make with the Twins and major league baseball," Borger wrote.

After the owners' meeting in Chicago, Selig said contraction remains a viable option for baseball, but he was upbeat about the Twins chances for survival. Minnesota lawmakers earlier this month decided to help finance a new stadium for the team.

"We have a proposed stadium deal that has a lot of hoops to walk through yet and we have a deal to settle the litigation, which I think is critical if we are going to move forward," Selig said. "And the objective is to move forward and get something done on a permanent basis."

Gov. Jesse Ventura signed a bill last week that arranges financing for a $330 million stadium for the Twins. But a host community still must be found.

St. Paul plans a vote to try to be the host. But if its residents don't approve a referendum, the assurance provided by the settlement that the Twins will play through 2003 gives the Legislature time to take another crack at it.

"I'm not totally convinced that the bill that we passed ... will be the final product," said Sen. Dean Johnson, who sponsored this spring's stadium legislation.

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