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Target Field: Some impressions at the first of many openings

Target Field: Some impressions at the first of many openings

I had a Task Force Flashback Saturday.

Over time, I have tripped out on countless stadium and arena task force meetings, reports, recommendations and failed ideas. But this particular fuzzy and head-shaking memory was of the very first Twins ballpark task force — the Advisory Task Force on Professional Sports — that was conducted on the field of the Metrodome.

It was Sept. 11, 1995, when then Twins President Jerry Bell first called the Dome “economically obsolete” for baseball.

As I stood on the Target Field green grass Saturday morning, as University of Minnesota and Louisiana Tech players warmed up in the pleasant March chill, it all came back to me as if a bad dream … filled with charts and graphs, claims and pushy politics, frightened legislators, polarized taxpayers and now this, the green grass and the wind swirling towards right center field.

Fifteen years in the making.

In addition to that flashback, I had some quick impressions as more than 35,000 curiosity seekers — many of whom probably once said they opposed public financing for the place — streamed into the $555 million edifice, cameras in hand, Twins caps on head, children in tow.

1. Public transportation.
The ballpark is set up for that, with the light rail leading to it and the North Star commuter trains right there, and tons of buses. I drove from St. Paul, didn’t want to pay for parking or get stuck in a ramp, and, after a few circles, found a parking spot on the street at Eighth and Marquette, but that was all luck. Despite all the parking ramps and surface lots, for a sold-out game it’s gonna be nasty to park. The team is admirably promoting the use of public transit.

Use it.

2. A corollary.
This is as urban a ballpark as there is in the Major Leagues. From the skyline beyond the right field wall, to the warehouses behind the left field grandstand, to the freeways nearby and that mass transit, to the bars and restaurants a block away, this is a city stadium. Thoughtful ballpark advocates sought this way back in the 1990s.

This may not be in the location once envisioned — on the river — or more in the heart of downtown Minneapolis — perhaps on Hennepin Avenue near the Federal Reserve Bank. But it’s in a fine place that once was a parking lot. It is compact, snuggled in. Some of us will continue to debate the cost, but this gathering place is very accessible and as urban as Minnesota allows.

3. Points of sale.
When you go to Target Field, you will be able to buy lots of stuff, mostly food and apparel and souvenirs. It’s a modern ballpark, and so it’s a marketplace, too. Remember that notion of economic obsolescence? Stadiums are malls now, too. Food? Yes, sandwiches cost $9 and a soda is $4.50.

Ad signage is there, too, but not on the field of play, only above it. You can’t avoid the giant ads for some companies — Best Buy, U.S. Bank, Budweiser, Treasure Island Casino — as you gaze at the massive scoreboard, but there’s not one sign on the outfield walls. When you walk by the souvenir and apparel stores, there is a mall feeling to it. It’s tough getting dragged into the 21st century of sports business. Target Field — even more so than Xcel Energy Center — drags us there.

4. Tradition and brand.
As a balance to the commerce, tradition is embedded in this structure. Photos and other art work, including lovely Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett wood murals, dot the ballpark. The Twins history is only 50 years old, but the franchise has had memorable stars and moments, and those are reflected on walls in the upper concourses and clubs with photos. There’s even a nod on the suite level to the old Senators, who were once the Twins. This is all quite endearing, but it also relates to the business of the game.

There was a time not very long ago when this Twins brand was battered, beaten and devalued, for all sorts of reasons. Bad team, unpopular owner, stadium politics, labor strife. Now that brand, that logo — the scripted “Twins” –the entwined T and C and the throwback mascots — Minny and Paul — are embraced. People want to wear them, be affiliated with them. The ballpark enhances the brand. Tradition boosts the brand. Parents pass along the loyalty to child. Tickets are sold. More caps, more T-shirts.

Speaking of brand, whatever Target paid for naming rights to the facility — and we’re guessing it’s in the $5 million-a-year range — it was a bargain. The Target bull’s-eye logo is center-stage, and the name is repeated over and over again in the stadium.

5. Green grass, crisp air.
It was cloudy and a brisk 50 degrees at 1:08 p.m. Saturday. The surprisingly large throng of more than 20,000 who were in their seats for the Gophers game was dressed in sweatshirts, some with wool caps or their hoods up. This was Minnesotan. Just a baseball field in the heart of the city. You’re chilly? Grab a jacket. Hoo-ray! No roof.

6. The Vikings
Target Field is the best thing and worst thing to happen to the Vikings’ sputtering stadium effort. The best, because customer/taxpayers will enter the stadium and say, “Wow, so this is what a modern facility looks like!”

The worst, because this one cost $555 million, with $199.5 million coming from the team and Target, or about 36 percent, and the rest from a Hennepin County sales tax. The Vikings are looking at $700 million to $1 billion for a stadium that won’t have nearly as many events. And, there is no way that a so-called “local partner,” such as Hennepin County, can help out in these times. The Vikings will need to put up at least 36 percent of any stadium and then develop a thoughtful state-backed plan.

Also, Target Field instantly reveals how corrupted the game of baseball was by being played inside. The game is meant to be played outdoors, simple as that. The Twins had an aesthetic story to tell besides a business narrative.

The Vikings don’t have that aesthetic story. Football is watchable in the Dome. The Vikings’ story is all business.

But, then, this is how this began, with the Twins’ Bell telling that task force back in ’95 about economic obsolescence. The Vikings might want to let the Target Field feeling soak in for a Twins season or two, so citizens understand the power of such gathering places.

In these parts, it takes 15 years, a bunch of plans and scary task force flashbacks to get from there to here, from comprehending the economic obsolescence of a sports facility, to acceptance of a need, to the opening of a new stadium, and then real community excitement.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 03/29/2010 - 11:40 am.

    Just like a convertible in Minnesota (and I own one), the “idea” of outdoor baseball is a lot more appealing than the reality of it – whether cold, scorching, buggy, windy or humid. I give it two years tops before they’re back asking for money for some sort of removable top. I still have vivid memories of the worst sun burn I ever had from a Knot Hole Game at the old Metropolitan Stadium. I know there are hard-core fans who will survive whatever Mother Nature throws at them; then there are the other 75 percent of the fans.

  2. Submitted by Tim Walker on 03/29/2010 - 11:45 am.

    A letter-writer in today’s PiPress lamented the narrow seats and lack of leg room.

    Did you check out the seats, Jay, and if so can you please share your impressions?

  3. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 03/29/2010 - 11:49 am.

    At this point in time, I think there are three equally plausible outcomes for the Vikings stadium issue:

    1) No deal and Zygi unloads the franchise for about $900 million as Forbes has been predicting for two years and sings “Don’t Cry for Me, Minnesota” all the way to the bank with a $300 million+ profit “windfall”

    2) A “sweetheart” stadium deal that great for the Vikings, but bad for Minnesota

    3) A deal that good for the Vikings and good for Minnesota

    If there’s no stadium deal this year, I think our chances of keeping the Vikings in MN drop to 50/50.

  4. Submitted by Dan Emerson on 03/29/2010 - 12:19 pm.

    the stadium is already inadequate and obsolete. Start the lobbying effort now! A couple billion $$ would do it.

  5. Submitted by Matthew Hauck on 03/29/2010 - 07:03 pm.

    @Jeremy: Please realize that in the middle of April (The earliest any home opener will be, as other northern tams, the Twins will start every season on the road) and early October, Minneapolis is on average only a couple of degrees colder than other northern outdoor baseball locations such Boston and Chicago, and sees a similar amount of snow. And regarding bugs, that is a fairly widespread issue as well. Regarding heat and humidity, well, you obviously have never been to a Cardinals game in July or August. And wind, really? Try a Giants game. Basically, the only semi-valid argument for a retractable roof would be the cold, but this stadium has a number of features to try to mitigate that somewhat. Sides, baseball is simply a game meant to be played outdoors. It is more enjoyable that way.

  6. Submitted by Charley Underwood on 03/29/2010 - 08:36 pm.

    In years to come, when our infrastructure has crumbled and our institutions have mostly been closed, we will look back on the billion dollars we spent to build a sports palace for a wealthy absentee team owner family, and we will wonder, “What were we thinking of?”

    We could have invested in food security. We could have invested in energy alternatives. We could have invested in education or in breakthrough technologies that would assure a comfortable future. We could have built an infrastructure that would reverse climate change, meet the challenges of peak oil, stave off economic collapse. We could have provided opportunities and a safety net for every single citizen in the state. We build a stadium instead.

    What a waste.

  7. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 03/30/2010 - 07:26 am.

    Jeremy, have you been down to the field. There is no place to put a roof. Even if every single person in the the State of Minnesota demanded a roof and contributed the $$$, Target Field could not accommodate a roof. The roof issue is dead and buried and the wording is starting to fade on the monument.

    Charley, i doubt that 3 cents on every $20 spent in Hennepin County for 30 years could “reverse climate change, meet the challenges of peak oil, stave off economic collapse. We could have provided opportunities and a safety net for every single citizen in the state.”

    But go ahead and get the ball rolling on that, I’ll support you.

  8. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 03/30/2010 - 12:58 pm.

    @Matthew and Dean,

    Matthew, you are obviously more of a baseball fan than I. I lived in the Bay Area and attended numerous games at Candlestick Park. It was the most stupid baseball stadium in history — looked like it was in a gravel pit, terribly windy and cold most of the year. Even though I was more of a Giants fan than As fan, we went to the Oakland stadium more often – one of my all time favorites. You felt like you were on the field. I have never been to a Cardinals game — I assume when they were in Saint Louis — because Saint Louis is my second least favorite city in America and all I ever wanted to do was get out of downtown Saint Louis. But I am 54 years old — an age when I have the disposable income to go to games. But I am also smart enough that I am not buying tickets in advance because I do not want to be shoe-horned into a humid, bug-infested mess to watch a game for $60, including one beer. And neither will all of the half-hearted fans who fill up the seats on weekday evening games. Uber fans always forget that, unlike shirtless Green Bay Packer fans outdoor in January, most of us don’t live, sleep and eat sports. I go to plays and museums and non-sports-themed restaurants. Enjoy! But every guy who tells me he froze his butt off at a game is going to have me laughing heartily in his face while is say: “I told you so.”


    Your arguments just show we once again built a half-hearted stadium — but with lots of limestone! Biggest problem with the Dome was it was built cheaply in cramped quarters with little or nothing aimed at comfort for the fans. We never learn.

  9. Submitted by Charley Underwood on 03/30/2010 - 02:34 pm.

    Dean, here’s a start:
    $100 million to build anaerobic digesters at every sewage treatment plant in the state, used to manufacture methane as a natural gas equilavent to make electricity when the wind dies down, the sun goes down, and the p.v. and wind turbines quit producing power.
    $400 million to leverage massive private investment in wind and p.v. development.
    $200 million to balance the state budget without killing off our local governments.
    $100 million to provide free tuition to every Minnesota public university student who maintains a 4.0 grade point averate.
    The remainder to pure science research in areas of energy, transportation and sustainable agriculture.

    Think about it. Consider the ripple effect over the generations after you paid for all that construction, research, education, infrastructure. Now compare that to handing a billion dollars to a billionaire sports franchise family and a few multi-millionaire gladiators.

    Like I say: What are we thinking of.

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