While every construction milestone for the new $480 million downtown Minneapolis ballpark for the Twins has been noted and dissected, on the other side of town the $288.5 million TCF Bank Stadium for the Gophers also has been a-building. A spanking new grid of roads is already in place, and last week the 2,200th — and last — pile was driven for the 50,000-seat University of Minnesota football stadium.
Both multimillion-dollar facilities will serve sports teams and both are being designed by HOK Sport of Kansas City and constructed by Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction. But there the similarities end.
How do they differ? Let me count the ways.
Contemporary vs. collegiate design
First there’s the design. Despite its location in the Minneapolis Warehouse District, the Twins ballpark will sport a contemporary look with angled walls of Minnesota Kasota stone, large glass sections jutting out toward the street, and a modernist canopy that will contain LED lights. In contrast, the Gophers stadium will be red-brick collegiate style with arched openings recalling those of the demolished Memorial Stadium and a traditional colonnade ringing the horseshoe-shaped stadium.
Then there’s the management. The Twins project is managed by a joint Ballpark Authority made up of the Twins and Hennepin County. There’s funding from Hennepin County and the Twins, plus city of Minneapolis oversight and politics to spare. The Gophers stadium is managed by two university officials: Kathy O’Brien, vice president of university services, and Joel Maturi, director of intercollegiate athletics. Is the university project more streamlined? You betcha.
And most of all there’s the site.
Landing the land was easier for Gophers
Unlike the Twins project, the Gophers project did not face a nasty land acquisition battle. The U had purchased virtually all of the land north of University Avenue from the railroads and city in the 1980s, making it oh-so-easy to get the project off the ground compared to the on-again, off-again Twins project, which teetered on the outcome of the land negotiations. (Construction on the Gophers stadium began this July with the first game scheduled for September 2009, while the Twins broke ground in August and will host their first game in April 2010.)
While the Twins ballpark is crammed into an 8-acre trough behind the Target Center, the Gophers stadium is rising on a roomy 27-acre pad at the intersection of Oak Street and University Avenue, along the eastern edge of the East Bank campus. Fans will walk to the stadium at street level rather than via the myriad bridges needed to connect the Twins ballpark to the city grid. (For construction views of the Gophers stadium, click here).
Since the Gophers stadium is next to large buildings — the geode-like McNamara Alumni Center and Williams and Mariucci Arenas — it doesn’t have to worry about sticking out. Being sunk in a trough helps the Twins ballpark fit into its downtown location without towering over its neighbors. But the U stadium construction crews must be lording it over those working on the ballpark. Ramps and lanes for I-394 have been closed while the Sixth Street Plaza is built over them. Half of Fifth Street has been demolished to level it out for light rail trains. Burlington Northern railroad tracks are being moved. Access for trucks and equipment is complicated by the 25-foot vertical drop and tight quarters. Meanwhile, Gopher stadium crews enter on grade into a roomy chained-off area where they can maneuver freely and do not block any traffic.
Hopes for the neighborhoods
The future of the environs is another departure point. Planners for the Twins ballpark hope that it will spur the development of an urbane new neighborhood dubbed the North Loop Village between the park and Washington Avenue. Gopher stadium planners actually see the beginnings of new campus development.
Already, two buildings — the $37 million Translational Research Facility and the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research — stand north of the stadium site in what will be a new bio-medical research corridor. Construction has just begun on the new $67.5 million Medical Biosciences Building funded in 2006.
“When we started, this seemed like the edge of the world,” said Kathy O’Brien, “but it isn’t. We’re really building a new district.”
In fact, O’Brien points out, the 70-acre district is larger than the entire West Bank. Unlike the West Bank, which was planned in the modernist 1960s, the East Gateway aspires to be less concrete and more green space. Sketches developed by landscape architecture consultants SRF show tree-lined roadways, landscaped building sites, and plant- and rock-lined ditches called bioswales around the stadium to filter storm water run-off.
Two things the stadiums have in common: Both projects will apply for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which is the environmental Gold Stamp of approval. And both will have great views of the downtown skyline, from different viewpoints.
Correction: This story originally reported (incorrectly) that state funding was involved in financing the Twins ballpark. The facility is funded by the team and Hennepin County. The story has been updated and corrected.