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Renovate Target Center? Who designed it in the first place?

The reimagined Target Center -- for $155 million
The reimagined Target Center — for $155 million

Target Center and I go way back. My first paying journalism job was roughly where Section 240 was today. (The old Haskell’s building, which was the perfect place for the Twin Cities Reader.)

A few years later, when the original Timberwolves owners tried to blackmail, then cajole, government to buy the privately financed building, I wrote a cover story titled, “When Pigs Fly.” The city of Minneapolis managed to launch the pig skyward, to the moans of taxpayers ever since. Former Councilmember Pat Scott never fails to remind me of my prognosticating abilities.

Therefore, I won’t try to foretell the fate of the new $155 million renovation effort. I will say this: I wasn’t sure Mayor R.T Rybak could find worse optics than the artsy drinking fountain controversy, but a vague, nine-figure panhandle for an unloved building amid budget nightmares represents a solid try. I realize the Metrodome renovation bid paved the way, but unlike the Vikings, the Timberwolves lease isn’t up until 20-friggin-25.

Because it occurred on the rubble of my former workplace, I vaguely remember attending Target Center’s groundbreaking sometime in the late ’80s. As I recall, they tore down a fairly ugly First Bank branch; the tragedy for we proto-hipsters was the eviction of Market Bar-B-Que and the loss of Goofy’s Upper Deck (where I saw one of Curtiss A’s first John Lennon tributes. Maybe the first?). 

Minneapolis had already set the mark for precast ugliness with the Multifoods Tower (now 33 South Sixth), but what arose from the Bar-B-Que’s ashes was perhaps the most soul-deadening major building I had ever seen. (Actually, I go back and forth between Target Center and Cedar Riverside; the latter is bigger, but has a bit of whimsy.) This wasn’t just precast concrete; it was precast concrete with acres of metal siding.

As it turned out, Target Center’s architect had never designed an arena before, and never would again. The Timberwolves owners, Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner, made their money on apartments and health clubs; they chose a local firm they’d used for fitness centers to do their basketball palace.

This afternoon, I tracked down Alan Kimpell, who owns KMB Architects, to ask how he felt about the potential transformation of his work. Kimpell hadn’t seen the beauty shots, nor had he been asked to consult on the project. He was sanguine and handled my gingerly-put inquiries about the building’s homelieness with professional aplomb.

The plan was to tie Target Center into the Warehouse District, Kimpell says, but doing so became a “real issue,” adding, “It stands on its own, in its time. I don’t think it’s a bad building.”

A few years after the Wolves took occupancy in 1990, Marv or Harv was already muttering about having built more seats on the upper level than below. AP’s Jon Krawczynski noted that Target Center was the last arena built “upside-down,” but that meant there were many existing facilities with such configurations. Marv and Harv didn’t hire an innovator, they hired someone they knew. They wound up with the basketball version of U.S. Cellular Field, the soulless White Sox ballpark that opened in 1991 — a year before Camden Yards.

Kimpell was headed out to lunch, so I didn’t get a chance to ask him about the rumors that Marv and Harv drove architects and contractors crazy with change orders, and that it crimped the budget. (On one level, Target Center is proof that the private sector doesn’t always do it better than government.)

Kimpell did note that, whatever I thought of the exterior, it could have been plainer; the glassed-in part that looks out on Butler Square was a late addition. (That’s right; it could’ve been precast-and-siding on all four sides.) Now, the renovation dreams include making that glassy part — overlooking the Twins plaza — the main entrance.

Kimpell said KMR applied to build some of the University of Minnesota athletic facilities, but wasn’t selected. If the firm’s one completed arena isn’t a beautiful building, Kimpell can at least brag about its durability. Target Center has outlasted the other three NBA-expansion arenas built around the same time. Even though the configuration isn’t optimal for selling high-priced tickets, I can say as a Wolves fan that the sight lines are pretty good, and women should appreciate the then-revolutionary female-to-male bathroom ratio. (There were some innovations!)

As a taxpayer, I still blame that mid-’90s City Council for sticking city taxpayers with a fiscal millstone, not to mention Arne Carlson and Norm Coleman for the sin of subsidizing a second arena. Target Center is a pig, and spending more money on it while Xcel stands is likely adding earrings. I wonder if the cost of blowing it up, paying back the city, and bribing the Wolves to St. Paul would cost less than $155 mil. That said, I’d probably throw in fifty bucks if Rybak can promise I’ll never look at that precast again.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 02/01/2011 - 09:41 pm.

    You may remember, there was an outcry at how butt ugly the thing was when it was built. Another firm was hired to do some add-ons to kind of Warehouse it up. It was still a pig after the lipstick was applied.

    Your story brought back memories of going looking at produce in that area in the early 70s and parking on the steep hill near Butler Square to walk to the arts club I managed there for a brief time around 76.

    A lot of urban texture has been scrubbed for good from that part of town.

  2. Submitted by Aaron Vehling on 02/01/2011 - 09:52 pm.

    The more Minneapolis modernizes, the more beautiful St. Paul becomes.

    I’m not a Wolves fan, but I have seen concerts at the Target Center. The charismatic stylings of Bono and The Edge could barely salvage the sound quality of the venue.

    Xcel is a world apart from that.

    As for the Target Center, I just hope the thing comes out looking better than its neighbor across First.

  3. Submitted by Matt Lewis on 02/01/2011 - 10:29 pm.


    Being a White Sox fan with the requisite inferiority complex, it continually annoys me to see people trashing US Cellular. Sure, it’s no Target Field. I won’t deny that. But for all the love places like Wrigley and old Yankee get for being historic, they’re absolutely awful places to watch a baseball game. The food is terrible, the sightlines suck, and the bathrooms are cramped and smelly.

    It’s particularly galling coming from a someone whose team, until last year, played in the worst place to watch a baseball game that I have ever been to. I’ll admit I haven’t seen a game in St Pete (that place has to be worse), but I’ve been to a lot of parks and the Dome was by far the worst.

    Soulless it may be, but watching a game at US Cellular is a ton of fun. Great food, great seats and fireworks. I never regret going to a game at the Cell. Also, seriously, it’s nowhere near as ugly as Target Center.


    I normally am not a huge fan of spending public money on such things, but Target Center looks so awful that this may actually be $155m well spent…

  4. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 02/01/2011 - 10:46 pm.

    If this was just about the Timberwolves I’d laugh it off. But unlike a baseball park or a football stadium, Target Center is useful facility.

    A renovation would also mean jobs, and somehow I suspect Rybek wouldn’t do a Pawlenty and give the contracts to the highest out-of-state bidder like our former governor did with the I-35 bridge contract. And, to Rybek’s credit, he’s not tearing a perfectly serviceable arena down to replace it with another one like St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman did.

    Still, it’s hard not to think about how much could be done with that much money, especially in a faltering economy.

  5. Submitted by Matthew Hauck on 02/02/2011 - 12:27 am.

    Mark, regarding the difference between Arenas and baseball and football stadiums, you are right that arenas see more use, therefore bringing more business to downtown. One thing seldom mentioned though it the HUGE difference in economic impact between baseball stadiums and football stadiums. Baseball stadiums are much bigger economic shots in the arm because there are 81 home games a year as opposed to only 8 in football.

  6. Submitted by David Brauer on 02/02/2011 - 06:37 am.

    Matt –

    I’ll give you this on The Cell: the first deck is fine. I actually like the outfield plaza. But that heart-attack-inducing raked second deck was so awful they’ve considered blowing it up or luring fans by ripping out the seats and putting couches!

    Charlie –

    Alan Kimpell did mention that a Denver firm was brought in to consult on the exterior. Thanks for the memories – more welcome!

  7. Submitted by Kevin Reichard on 02/02/2011 - 09:10 am.

    “But that heart-attack-inducing raked second deck was so awful they’ve considered blowing it up or luring fans by ripping out the seats and putting couches!”

    They already made some dramatic changes in the last round of renovations. Assume you haven’t been there in recent years, David.

    There is not a single metropolitan area that can support two arenas. It’s been tried and tried again, and it’s never worked. Newark, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Portland, Detroit, Sunrise/Miami…in each case one of the two arenas requires a major subsidy, like Target Center does (in Miami, both arenas are heavily subsidized). Putting one dime into that facility is a waste of money.

  8. Submitted by Jane Cracraft on 02/02/2011 - 10:25 am.

    Ugliest large building in town, with Block-e not far behind. Riverside is a distant 3rd. First time I saw Target Center I felt slightly nauseated.

  9. Submitted by Mike Hicks on 02/07/2011 - 04:43 pm.

    The Target Center reminds me of the “brain bug” from Starship Troopers, so I totally understand Jane’s nausea.

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