City redirects bond funding from Twins

Published 5:27 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2018

After nearly a year of having a $1.5 million offer on the table to support clubhouse renovations at Joe O’Brien Field for the Elizabethton Twins, City Council is looking to move the funding to other immediate needs within the community.

Officials started budget talks Wednesday afternoon and unanimously agreed to reallocate $2,628,539.63 worth of bond funding to various community projects. During the August 2017 meeting, Council approved to allocate funding to four different entities: Joe O’Brien Field ($1.5 million), the Elizabethton Police Department ($1 million), Elizabethton Golf Course ($100,000) and the Bonnie Kate Theater ($28,539.63).

During Wednesday’s meeting, Council was in full agreement to pull the $1.5 million for the clubhouse at Joe O’Brien Field – due to not receiving a financial commitment from the Minnesota Twins office – and use it for other needs within the community.

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“We’ve had our offer of $1.5 million on the table for a while now, and we still haven’t been able to move forward with a standing financial commitment (with Minnesota),” Mayor Curt Alexander said following the meeting. “Council feels now that it’s time to redirect that funding elsewhere until we can sit down and possibly, sometime in the future, reopen up negotiations with the Twins if they are interested in moving forward.”

Prior to the budget workshop, Alexander provided Council members with a document that showcased an agreement – made April 6, 2018 – between Minnesota and Populous to work on construction drawings for the clubhouse.

During the August 2017 meeting, Council voted to approve a professional contract with architect Thomas Weems for $113,450 for conceptual drawings for a clubhouse, but the motion was contingent on Minnesota making a commitment to help contribute funding to the structure. The agreed upon concept for a clubhouse was $1.7 million with the city willing to pitch in $1 million of the bond funding for the structure and use the remaining $500,000 for fan amenities.

“We wanted a commitment from the Twins that if this project (of the clubhouse) went over budget, would they be willing to fill the gap. They were not willing to come out and say they’d fill the gap,” Alexander said.

In response to the Weems’ conceptual work, Minnesota issued the document to the city indicating they would work solely on construction drawings with their own party, Populous, for $142,000 in regards to construction.

“If they were to bid the project and it went over budget, they didn’t want to fund the project and they’d eat the cost,” Alexander said. “But if they come back and we were to move forward with the project, the city was asked to reimburse the $142,000 to Minnesota.”

Discussions on the longevity of the Elizabethton Twins being in Elizabethton has been circulating for years within the city.

“This discussion started several years ago with the understanding that this project was going to be funded one third by the Minnesota Twins,” Alexander said. “They have since withdrawn their offer and not willing to commit to that one third. Without that one third, we are unable to make this project a reality.

Without any solid commitment, Alexander noted the goal is to use bond funding for other projects within the city that can make an immediate impact economic and benefit the public, including the Elizabethton Fire Department, Elizabethton Golf Course, Bonnie Kate Theater, Covered Bridge Park and the Elizabethton Police Department.

For the time being, the Twins will be playing the 2018 season at Joe O’Brien Field.

“We’re not closing the door,” Alexander said about the Twins future in the city. “We will revisit this if the Twins are willing to sit down and we’re able to move forward with a firm financial commitment from both parties.”