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Ballpark won’t succeed as an isolated gem

The ballpark neighborhood is home to thousands of condo residents, but streets and sidewalks are bleak and uninviting.
MinnPost photo by Steve Berg
The ballpark neighborhood is home to thousands of condo residents, but streets and sidewalks are bleak and uninviting.

Minneapolis may be famous for its splendid new cultural attractions, namely the new Guthrie, Walker and Central Library. But it’s infamous for failing, in any pleasing way, to fit these architectural gems into their urban surroundings.

Blocks of weedy sidewalks and junky parking lots separate the Guthrie and the Library from the heart of downtown. The Walker lacks even a discernible main entrance, unless you count the elevator doors from the parking ramp below. Each attraction is, essentially, an island.

Neighbors of the new Twins ballpark want to break that unfortunate trend. Set to open in 2010, the ballpark figures also to be an architectural triumph, perhaps the best of the new generation of cozy urban baseball venues. But the project itself has sucked up all of the money originally set aside for the plazas, public art and tree-lined sidewalks that were to provide context and connection to the surrounding city.

“An urban ballpark is not a drive-in facility,” one neighbor reminded a recent gathering of the 2010 Partners, a coalition of neighbors, merchants and officials from the Twins and various local governments. She was right, of course. Many of the projected 3 million visitors per year will park their cars or take the train and then walk through neighborhoods to get to the snuggly-fitted ballpark — and, one can hope, they will linger after the games, too. What the 2010 Partners want is a pleasant environment for shopping, dining and residing, similar to the experiences found around urban-style ballparks in Denver, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities.

“We don’t want a repeat of the Metrodome,” said Chuck Leer, referring to the bleak atmosphere around the current stadium. Leer, a North Loop developer, put together the 2010 group as it became apparent that money for neighborhood streetscape was being siphoned off, first by landowners who demanded a higher-than-anticipated price for the ballpark site, and then by enhancements of the structure itself. Almost from the beginning it was clear that the $90 million set aside by the Legislature for “land costs and infrastructure” wouldn’t be nearly enough.

The Twins kicked in an additional $22 million on the stadium itself. And the Northstar-Hiawatha rail project paid for a bilevel transit station. Still, Leer estimates that the neighborhoods are as much as $8 million short of what they expected for streetscapes— even with the welcome addition last week of $1 million from the Minnesota Ballpark Authority to start a Ballpark District Enhancements fund.

The fund’s top priority is a pedestrian walkway hugging the Sixth Street side of Target Center that would allow people to walk from Firstt Avenue directly into the main ballpark plaza. That alone is expected to cost $3 million. A second priority involves streetscapes and directional signs along Fifth, Sixth and Seventh streets linking Hennepin Avenue to the ballpark. A third priority is public art near the ballpark entrances.

In addition, members of the 2010 group would like more attention to streetscapes in the North Loop and Warehouse districts, particularly along Third Avenue between the ballpark and Washington Avenue, and, perhaps, along Fifth Avenue between the ballpark and Washington. One of their interests is to select an exact site for the future “metro center” train station near the ballpark. Another is to energize the street by not moving people so easily into the skyway system. Still another involves who will care for trees and flowers along the streets if, indeed, they are ever planted. The city has no reliable system for that kind of maintenance, or for keeping sidewalks free of litter.

To see streetscapes trimmed from budgets is never a surprise in Minneapolis, where the pedestrian experience is highly valued in parks but not along downtown sidewalks. Landscaping was eliminated along the Hiawatha light rail line. And when Washington Avenue was repaved through the North Loop, incredulous neighbors were told that adding trees would violate the historic character of the district.

“Pedestrians don’t have a strong constituency in this city,” developer Michael Lander told the 2010 group. City Hall has a wonderful master plan that envisions nice sidewalks, but lacks the money, commitment and process to make them actually happen, he said.

The task is made more complicated because so many parties are involved in constructing the ballpark and its surroundings. The team, county, city, ballpark authority, MnDOT, transit projects, neighborhood and civic groups and Hines Interests, the dominant real estate firm— each has its own agenda.

“We’re new to the neighborhood,” said Twins president Jerry Bell, who has attended the 2010 group’s meetings. “We would like to see a ballpark district with good lighting, trees, good sidewalks, good signage and safety. It’s in our interests to be located in a nice neighborhood.”

One idea is to finance improvements from anticipated higher property tax values in the district. Another is to funnel higher revenues anticipated from nearby parking ramps into nicer streets and sidewalks.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that the new Twins ballpark, even if it’s an architectural masterpiece, will suffer unless the surrounding blocks are held to a higher standard. No major urban attraction— whether for culture or sports— can truly succeed in isolation. A good urban ballpark cannot be an island. 

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Susan Lesch on 04/22/2008 - 02:28 pm.

    Small businesses–with windows and doors open for business at street level–matter the most. Keep a deli open before painting another purple street sign, an art gallery and shoe store before a sculpture, a restaurant and convenience store and a second baseball museum before a bench design contest. Certainly people already there have needs but I wonder mightily about this column promoting million dollar manicures ordered up by people “new to the neighborhood”.

  2. Submitted by Mark Oyaas on 04/22/2008 - 05:37 pm.

    Susan’s post hits at the what could be the promise of a group like 2010 offers. Old neighbors, new neighbors building a new neighborhood together. There are a couple of important operatives; together and the concept of neighborhood, as in a 365 day place to live, work as well as a lively destination. Almost by definition a ballpark centric planning initiative ignores the other 275 days of the year. Here’s hoping that the public private partnership described by the author keeps the idea of “more than a ballpark” central to its thinking.

  3. Submitted by Susan Lesch on 04/22/2008 - 08:56 pm.

    Maybe it would help to fill in the blanks. Mr. Leer is a downtown real estate developer on both sides of Hennepin–of the 61-unit 801 Washington lofts and the 137-unit Tower Lofts, both in the North Loop. According to bizjournals.com, he is hoping to build “166 affordable apartments, 119 condo units, 16,000 square feet of retail and an underground parking ramp” at Parcel A next door to the Carlyle condos with Steve Minn, another real estate developer. Mr. Oyaas is the project manager for the ballpark Design Advisory Group and, according to MPR News, “lobbies city hall on many issues.” Nice to “meet” you. Mayor Rybak’s Washington Avenue urban design meeting was at Open Book, where Mr. Leer is chair I believe. Hope this helps.

  4. Submitted by Mark Oyaas on 04/23/2008 - 03:36 pm.

    “Meet?” I would have to classify that as quite the speed date. If the inference was a lack of disclosure some how diminished the credibility of my post, let me disclose away. I have been directly involved as an advocate for a compact transit oriented ballpark since the mid 1990’s. This stems in part from my love of baseball, the belief that a major league baseball team is an asset to the entire region and that building a better place to see and play the game (as well as operate the team)would benefit fans and the community for generations. Note, neither my firm, Neerland & Oyaas, Inc., nor the non profit advocacy organization, New Ballpark Inc. (NBI) that my partner and I founded with several real live civic leaders have ever received a dime from the Twins or the team’s owners. I publish an almost bi-weekly newsletter, Neerland & Oyaas Online which has called to task public and private leaders who haven’t done what we perceive to be in the publics best interest as this project has rolled out.
    Through NBI I have played a role in forming two important citizen involvement committees. The first C-17 was charged by the City in 2000 to look at the economic social benefits of an urban ballpark. The Design Advisory Group (DAG 360)was convened, in part thanks to my advocacy, to stake out design principals to guide area developers, including the Ballpark Authority and the team around a standard that this was to be “more than a ballpark”. Since DAG 360 issued its report at the end of 2005 I have been working with colleagues including my friend Chuck Leer (who chaired the DAG 360 as a volunteer) to promote the concept of all of the area stakeholders working under a common umbrella to implement the driving principles behind the DAG 360 report. For more than a year I have funded without reimbursement the various communications and meeting materials to keep stakeholders interested during the protracted land fight which threatened to derail any such cooperation.
    As a sometimes paid, always passionate, promoter of the ballpark I am driven by the belief that great cities are in significant ways defined by their gathering places. We promised a better ballpark that would keep our team here. The Twins, Ballpark Authority and the design team are delivering in spades. I will not waver from pursuing the second half of that promise, that this project would result in a vibrant neighborhood, a place that will attract and retain residents workers and visitors for years to come.
    Beyond that I am a lifelong Minneapolis resident as is my lovely and talented wife. Our darling boys have followed my journey through the Minneapolis Public Schools. I still consider myself Catholic although not always getting the vibe directly from Rome. I am a Libra with eclectic musical tastes who enjoys sunny fall days. Whew, now maybe we can say “we’ve met”.

  5. Submitted by Susan Lesch on 04/23/2008 - 06:53 pm.

    Well, you referred to me by my first name in your first comment, thus the “nice to ‘meet’ you.” Whether or not I support landscaping for the ballpark neighborhood and Washington probably doesn’t matter much. I happen to prefer Mr. Leer’s Parcel A proposal, and by far, to another closed off Marriot block, and I happen to think a park on Hennepin and Washington is a bad idea. A good idea, in all three places, is windows on the world and small businesses where people would want to be coming in and out of doors at street level.

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