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Target Field: Economic impact is years — and dreams — away

As the official opening of Target Field dawns on Monday, critics skeptical of the “economic impact” of stadiums can easily argue that they are winning the day.
 
So far, all anyone can point to as a result of the new $555 million Twins ballpark is a convenience store/gas station at Fifth Street North and Sixth Avenue North, and a handful of replacement restaurants and bars springing up along First Avenue near the ballpark. In many cases, these “new” enterprises represent classic examples of transferred — not new — economic activity in the region, the sort of “moving the chips on the table” scenario so long blasted by stadium subsidy opponents.
 
Hubert’s, which was the singular Metrodome-linked watering hole, has added a site in Target Center, across the street from the ballpark. Hubert’s Dome customers will simply move their dollars to the Target Field location, which is replacing another sports-bar/restaurant that was once there. Kieran’s Irish Pub, which was located a few blocks away in downtown Minneapolis, has taken the place of Bellanotte, which went out of business in Block E. Roy Smalley’s Club 87, a new restaurant, has set up in the former Champps in Butler Square.

According to city records, between January 2009 and March 31, 2010, permits for $18.4 million in new and remodeled construction were issued for an area around Target Field, but not all of those permits were ballpark-related, and a huge chunk – $5.8 million — was to improve an existing parking ramp.
 
Is that all there is? For now, yes.

Hubert's
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Hubert’s is preparing for its new location adjacent to Target Field.

Is that all there will be? Of course not, and given the current economy, Mike Christenson, Minneapolis director of community planning and economic development, expressed a certain level of glee even with that limited activity.
 
The big question for developers, city and Hennepin County officials and the Twins is how much will follow? The answer, and not a satisfactory one, is: Time will tell. Lots of time.
 
Will Target Field generate or nudge massive economic activity in the so-called North Loop? Could it ride a wave of ancillary development?

It all depends … on how you define economic activity, and on whether your period of assessment demands instant gratification, or your horizon carries patience and realism. It also depends on the development of an intermodal transit exchange that, some say, could be the real engine for change around the ballpark.
 
What we know so far
The first official American League regular season game has yet to be played. Already, the existence of the facility has created a palpable excitement that City Council Member Lisa Goodman, a critic of subsidies to sports facilities, acknowledges has value … although probably not equal to the $350 million of Hennepin County-backed public financing.

Lisa Goodman
Lisa Goodman

Goodman, in whose ward Target Field sits, said, “It’s great from a civic pride perspective.”
 
We know the Twins are expected to attract about 3 million customers this season, and likely for the next couple of seasons, to a section of downtown Minneapolis that was once known only for surface parking lots tucked next to what many derisively call “the garbage burner.” (More on that later.) We know the team is marketing the suites and clubs in the stadium for conferences, weddings and other social events to keep it somewhat active during the off-season. Already, the stadium is a destination for mere curiosity-seekers, even when the Twins aren’t playing.
 
As downtown developer Chuck Leer of North First Ventures told MinnPost: “There is a euphoria from doing something right as a city, as a county and as a state. That’s going to give some lift” to the area around the ballpark. It is difficult to argue against community spirit in the urban setting in the throes of this Great Recession. What’s it worth? Unknown.

(But failed Block E on Hennepin Avenue and a short walk Target Field is in the process of being sold and its buyer has cited the arrival of the ballpark.)
 
We also know that the ballpark has been designed — with a plaza extending toward the heart of downtown — to encourage people to come early, hang around and leave later. The Target Plaza gathering place has been established — with private dollars from the Twins and Target, by the way — linking downtown to the north side. That’s good for city life.
 
We know that, unlike the Metrodome, Target Field was placed in an area that already had some sizable economic activity — the Warehouse District — and another sports and entertainment facility — Target Center. Some housing already has been developed nearby.
 
But we also know that the economy remains in the tank, and that the credit markets continue to be unkind to developers.
 
“Target Field has opened at an absolutely terrible time for ancillary development,” said Steve Berg, a Twin Cities journalist and urbanologist, whose book “Target Field: The Minnesota Twins’ New Home,” will be published this summer.
 
And if any developer is expecting to get subsidies from the city any time soon to jump-start development near Target Field, they should think again. As Council Member Goodman said, “I believe many people think the Twins ballpark was the subsidy” to boost development.
 
We also know that as communities around the country have financed and funded stadiums and arenas over the past 15 years, there has been — for at least one noted urban scholar — an evolution of thought about the benefits of such projects. To wit, University of Michigan Professor Mark Rosentraub wrote a book in 1997 called “Major League Losers,” in which he argued against subsidies to team owners and questioned the value of public funding for sports facilities.

This year, he wrote a new book, “Major League Winners,” detailing how in some communities — San Diego, Cleveland and Indianapolis, for example — thoughtful “investments” by government have succeeded.
 
Noting that his ideas have evolved, Rosentraub wrote in an email to MinnPost: “It is agreed that sports by itself adds only a little to a regional economy in terms of its individual and direct impact (the value of a team). This is because in the absence of a team, people still spend money for recreation, leaving the regional economy almost neutral. What does change, however, is the location of that spending. For example, having a team in a downtown area or in a declining central city or where public officials want it located MOVES regional economic spending to a specific location.”
 
We also know that the conditions and visions affiliated with Target Field are very different from those that were attached to the Metrodome, which has long been offered up as Prime Exhibit One for the skeptics’ case of “stadiums do nothing” for a surrounding community. The Dome’s sad ancillary development history is filled with myth. When it was built, city fathers didn’t really have a development plan. Their instincts were to bring the Twins and Vikings from Bloomington — the burgeoning 1970s suburbs — to the core city, more as a symbol than a development trigger.
 
A new urban ballpark
At this point in history, the Target Field location is significantly more advantageous than the Dome’s was 30 years ago. It wasn’t dropped down, as if a spaceship landed on the edge of nowhere, tucked behind a hospital and parking lots. It’s attached to an existing entertainment district and to plans.
 
There are those who say that a neighborhood with 81 baseball games and noisy trains won’t be the most attractive for housing. Others don’t agree. There are those who say Minneapolis’ central business district is filled with vacant office space and empty hotel rooms, and we won’t need more for a long while.
 
But most of the optimism that surrounds Target Field stems from the related mass transit piece of this ballpark, and a rarely mentioned energy component.
 
For their part, Twins officials are not overselling the impact of the stadium. Their narrative of the ballpark driving “economic impact” changed a long time ago. The team’s chief spokesman during the Twins stadium lobbying, Jerry Bell, listened to the “economic impact” critics, and his argument migrated to preserving Major League Baseball in Minnesota and to retaining a statewide cultural asset. Still, Twins officials in their actions, according to government officials, have revealed a keen understanding of the relationship between the stadium, mass transit and environmental issues.
 
Twins President Dave St. Peter said Target Field will be a “home run” for Warehouse District entertainment businesses, but “my belief is that the transit interchange is the most critical element in driving the development in this part of downtown.”
 
A driving force behind rail’s link to the ballpark and the district is Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. The interchange he is promoting includes the Central Corridor Light Rail, the current Hiawatha line, the just-opened Northstar commuter line, the fast train to Chicago and other LRT and commuter train lines all leading to the Target Field station. Thousands of bus trips a day end at garages nearby. Parking ramps are in place nearby. The Cedar Lake Bike Trail is planned to go along there.

Peter McLaughlin
Peter McLaughlin

Some folks have already taken to calling it “the Grand Central Station” of Minneapolis. On the white board in his Government Center office, McLaughlin has hand-drawn tracks and dates that suggest a completion date for all of this rail activity by 2020.
 
“Those train lines coming together are a very, very powerful attraction for investment,” McLaughlin said.
 
They would bring suburbanites in for work and pleasure, a chance to enjoy a city they might otherwise fear. They would allow city dwellers to travel throughout the urban core, and beyond. They would reduce automobile traffic.
 
“Rail investments keep the center the center,” McLaughlin said, and right next to it is the region’s newest amenity, the ballpark and one of its arenas, Target Center, not to mention an entertainment district a short walk away.
 
Retail has been ceded to the suburbs. Forget about that attracting people to the core. Core cities, as Rosentraub points out in “Major League Winners,” are the locations for “unique activities” that can’t exist anywhere else in a region. Sports and culture are among those fewer and fewer unique activities.
 
Visions
Then, there are the grand visions related to the trains and the games. To understand one, you need to go up on the roof of an aging mini-storage warehouse at the corner of Third Avenue North and Fifth Street North and dream with Bruce Lambrecht. Eleven years ago, lots of people called Lambrecht names worse than dreamer when he told his business partner Rich Pogin that a Twins ballpark could and should be built on a parking lot tucked to the north and west of the I-394 entryway into downtown. It became the site for the Twins ballpark.
 
With that deal done, Lambrecht and other partners still control another tight piece of land adjacent to that “Grand Central Station” location. Now, as he stands on that warehouse roof, the Target Field bull’s-eye stares at him and the ballpark rises as a shining monument to perseverance, deal-making, a new sales tax and various levels of profit.

Bruce Lambrecht
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
With Northstar commuter line trains below him, the hoped-for site of Minnesota’s own “Grand Central Station,” Bruce Lambrecht gazes at what could be.

Lambrecht and his nearly 100 partners collected more than $28 million for the land, the Twins franchise value was tagged at $405 million this week by Forbes magazine (up 14 percent over last year) and team ticket prices went up 45 percent, the largest increase in the Major Leagues this season.
 
He has a vision that encompasses both the baseball and rail assets in his backyard. On this site, he envisions a 35-story “sports and entertainment condominium” development, with 11 floors adding 254 hotel rooms on the bottom and 20 stories adding 185 condos on the top. From the windows of those southwest facing condos, an owner would be sitting just beyond and just above the left field stands, and could gaze into the ballpark.
 
Hotel guests would have instant access to the stadium, and a concierge service would aid them with tickets to events. On non-game nights at Target Field, in Lambrecht’s vision, hotel guests and condo owners would hop on light rail trains and head to downtown St. Paul for a Wild game or to the University of Minnesota campus for an event. Or simply stroll downtown. Or take a family on a bike ride on the Cedar Trail.
 
Extreme? Impossible?
 
“It might sound extreme,” Lambrecht said, “but so did a ballpark on eight acres of land next to a garbage burner 11 years ago.”

35-story "sports and entertainment condominium" development
Illustration courtesy of Dennis J. Sutliff, Elness Swenson Graham Architects, Inc.
A dream, or the next phase? Land owner and developer Bruce Lambrecht envisions a 35-story “sports and entertainment” hotel and condominium project on Fifth Street North, just beyond left field of Target Field, directly adjacent to a transit hub.

A long view
Can that happen? Should that happen? Lambrecht’s is not the only big idea. Twins Inc. President Jerry Bell takes a visitor on a tour of the stadium and looks at the same plot of land and imagines a 40-story office tower, with workers from all over the region arriving there via trains.
 
There is the possibility of something growing out of the Seventh Street side of the ballpark, where a players’ parking lot now sits. The Twins own the air rights over that lot.
 
Housing is a possibility moving out from the stadium towards the neighborhoods along the Mississippi River to the north and east, probably through refurbished warehouse space. The future of North Minneapolis could be linked to the transit hub.
 
The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center — known as the “garbage burner” — could also be a key component to development. Developer Leer calls the ballpark, the rail hub and HERC’s energy piece an example of “harmonic convergence.” HERC could serve to create energy for the entire district as it grows, he said.
 
For now, all of those ideas — good and bad — are non-starters because of the economy. For now, the talk of housing is muffled because the condo market will need to shake out over the next three to five years, as already built units are sold and new demand grows, demand driven by the transit hub, by the energy on the streets because of the ballpark and Target Center, because of more people coming downtown, because of the aging population of the suburbs.
 
An indication of the longer view that needs to be taken can be seen in the renaming of an activist ad hoc group of urban lovers, developers, city boosters and business leaders that Leer chairs. Formed a few years back to begin envisioning the growth around the ballpark, it was called the 2010 Partners.
 
But recently, the group changed its name. It is now the 2020 Partners. That’s a decade down this uncertain road.

By then, McLaughlin’s white board might be a clear slate, with all the train lines operating. By then, another Lambrecht project might have shocked the community. By then, the optimists hope, Target Field will be one piece of a successful urban pie, not the centerpiece, or the only piece, not merely a magnet for a transferred restaurant here or a relocated bar there.

Jay Weiner has covered Minnesota’s stadium debates since their earliest days.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/09/2010 - 11:19 am.

    The problem with the new Twins Stadium is that the jobs it creates are low wage, temporary jobs, of which there wouldn’t be much of a shortage even without the stadium. The costs, however are quite real from the first day, the increased sales tax, the loss of tax base, the exportation of ballplayer salaries to low tax states.

    The convincing arguments (or at least the ones that have a shot of convincing me) are the intangible arguments. Does the Twins Stadium makes us more confident about the future of our community? Is the fun of a new stadium worth the price?

    By the way, something should be made very clear at the outset. A basic precondition of building a new Vikings Stadium should be the assumption, by the state, of the Twins Stadium debt that was incurred by Hennepin County plus some compensation for the loss of property tax revenue. If Tom Bakk wants a Vikings Stadium, his constituents must assume at least part of the burden of paying for both stadiums. They should not continue as freeloaders at Hennepin County’s expense.

  2. Submitted by David Thompson on 04/09/2010 - 12:06 pm.

    The Twins payroll is now over $90 million, and that’s just for the players. That’s a lot of state income tax that wouldn’t be paid without the new stadium. Also, the construction jobs that built it were not low wage jobs either. I think the transit hub will eventually become more important than the ballpark, if it’s done right.

  3. Submitted by Judy Borger on 04/09/2010 - 01:06 pm.

    We’re so lucky, Jay, that guys like you who have the experience to write a piece like this can still make your thinking available for the rest of us to read.

    On second thought, it’s not luck, it’s Minnpost and the Internet.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/09/2010 - 01:14 pm.

    How professional athletes are taxed is something of a mystery. It seems to me that there are lots of ways to avoid or defer income. In any event, once the taxes are paid, for the most part the money is exported to other states where athletes live in the off season, and retire. Ballplayer salaries are a form of state aid to low income tax states. Tax-wise we also have to figure in the loss of real estate property tax when the Twins Stadium real estate went off the books. That’s a current and continuing loss of revenue to Hennepin County taxpayers who are also on the hook for the higher sales tax.

    Again, I think a basic part of any Vikings Stadium deal should include tax relief for Hennepin County residents who have been so unfairly stuck with the bill for a Twins Stadium which as of now, is a lot more beneficial to those who live outside the county than those who live in it.

  5. Submitted by Mike Owens on 04/09/2010 - 01:31 pm.

    “There are those who say that a neighborhood with 81 baseball games and noisy trains won’t be the most attractive for housing.”

    Those who say this should visit Chicago’s Wrigleyville.

  6. Submitted by Greg Gamradt on 04/09/2010 - 02:22 pm.

    According to the Star Tribune, 5 April: “The only economic impact study for the new ballpark was done by the Twins in 1997 and it has been lost said team spokesman Kevin Smith”.
    Given the cost of such studies, it sounds rather fishy to me.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/09/2010 - 03:16 pm.

    And maybe visit the neighborhood around Comiskey Park.

  8. Submitted by Randy Luethye on 04/09/2010 - 07:41 pm.

    A train business directory shows locations near all of the Minneapolis light rail stations at LightRailNetwork.com

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/09/2010 - 08:10 pm.

    Well, Mr. Wiener has done a good job of documenting the fact that if we’re lucky, the stadium is a economic wash. This was all known before it was built. The point is it’s always bad policy to gamble 350 million public dollars on the off chance that it’ll spur some private development someday. There’s no reason to do that when you know you get a return on infrastructure, health care, education etc, you know, the stuff that taxes are actually supposed to be spent on. To spend 350 million on “prestige” when you have people dying and suffering without health care for a third of that, is simply unconscionable.

    We need to stop subsidizing professional sports, those guys are billionaires. Let them live within their means for a change.

  10. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 04/09/2010 - 11:11 pm.

    The convenience store/gas station you cite at the top of the story replaced a convenience store/gas station/service station/car wash on the same site.

    Hardly a net gain.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/10/2010 - 08:50 am.

    The most immediate impact has been to increase the value of the team for the Pohlads. David Kay Johnston and others have documented the fact that for the last two decades the increases in pro-sports franchises have been entirely attributable to pubic subsidies. We increase the value of the teams with welfare programs for billionaires and they pump up the team salaries… sound familiar.

    So we’ve spent last 8 years laying off people who actually work for the public while setting up a welfare program for professional athletes, most of which don’t even live in this state year round.

    My advice to you sports people: just enjoy your new stadium now. What’s done is done. Don’t try to justify it as anything other than a nice place to watch baseball which is all it ever was or could be. As a fellow citizen, I hope everyone act more responsibly in the future.

  12. Submitted by William Pappas on 04/10/2010 - 09:29 am.

    Much of the development that occurs around the stadium will be due mostly to commuter rail. The development that was stimulated by a billion dollar investment in the Hiawatha line was immediate, much of it private, and exceeds a billion dollars now and is climbing fast, even in this recession. Target stadium cost a lot more than 500 million when infrastructure is thrown in and for that price it will never stimulate the type of development that has already started along University Avenue with the construction of the Central Corridor. In fact, development that acompanies commuter rail lines is immediate and overwhelming. The spill over development from the transit hub related impact will be development that the new stadium wrongly claims as its own. That will be just one more lie related to public stadium financing. Stadium subsidies are a colossal transfer of wealth from the taxpayers to billionaires and millionaires, nothing else. The shiny new stadium is just the monument to that.

  13. Submitted by david unowsky on 04/11/2010 - 09:03 am.

    Great article and it’s good to remind people that much of what passes for development is merely moving retail and restaurant business from somewhere else.
    For the most part, that’s what the Mall of America does. Giving money to MOA is much worse than funding a ballpark because it moves money from neighborhoods and from locally owned businesses to national chains and to out-of-town mall owners. A dozen $30 million projects would be a much better use of public money, spurring regional development, restoring some main streets in greater Minnesota, and/or upgrading urban business streets- think Chicago or Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis, Rice or Payne in St. Paul.
    The construction jobs would still be there and real development and real jobs would be more likely to happen.
    Ironically, development HAS happened in the Metrodome area. Beginning on Washington Avenue and reaching northward, a vibrant arts and culture region is blooming. Spearheaded by the Open Book Building (Chuck Leer was involved in that development), the area now includes the Guthrie, the Mill City Museum, and the Macphail Center for Music. Several new restaurants have opened; a hotel, condos, and apartments have been built or created in old buildings; some retail has started to appear. With major help from foundations and private donors, the non-profit arts world has spearheaded real development with real jobs. Funny, isn’t it.

  14. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 04/12/2010 - 09:08 pm.

    “My advice to you sports people: just enjoy your new stadium now. What’s done is done. Don’t try to justify it as anything other than a nice place to watch baseball which is all it ever was or could be.”

    As a Twins fan (and a Hennepin County taxpayer), fear not: I will. I was downtown today, and you cannot put a price on the smiles and electricity in the air.

    As someone who is a fan of vibrant cities, I am thrilled we have a new, beatiful venue in this city to enjoy. This isn’t something new; governments have been building sports stadia for thousands of years.

    This was a fantastic plan and money well spent. My thanks to my fellow taxpayers and the Pohlads; this is quite a gift.

    Now, it would be great for Hennepin County (and all of Minnesota) to prove to the debbie downers that government can both assist with the construction of a sports venue AND deal with other issues as well; the two are not, as some would have you believe, mutually exclusive.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/13/2010 - 03:33 pm.

    //As a Twins fan (and a Hennepin County taxpayer), fear not: I will. I was downtown today, and you cannot put a price on the smiles and electricity in the air.

    Yeah, I can put a price on it.

    //This was a fantastic plan and money well spent. My thanks to my fellow taxpayers and the Pohlads; this is quite a gift.

    Not a gift, gifts are voluntary giving. This was a tax without approval. It would be nice if we could build stadiums and keep bridges from falling down. Failing that it would be nice if we keep fire fighters, cops, and public defenders on the job, and maintain health care for people who can’t afford it and let billionaires build their own stadiums. Instead some guy gets a 185 million bucks to do something, I’m not sure what, with a baseball while my next door neighbor, a young woman in a wheel chair, gets stuck in limbo because Henn Co. just backed out of paying for in home health recovery after brain surgery. (for lack of funding) We can’t come up the money to bring this young woman home after 45 days in the hospital but you guys got your stadium. Please, seriously, just shut up and enjoy your stadium.

  16. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 04/13/2010 - 09:36 pm.

    Mr. Udstrand, you certainly seem like an angry individual. Previously you have made the rather outrageous claim that Target Field is the product of fascism. You have used sarcasm and guilt trips to make your point; unfortunately, it is an ineffective way of making your point.

    My suggestion is that if this stadium had never been built, your neighbor would still be in the same predicament. Actually, it is more than a suggestion: it is a fact. I am hopeful that our government — both at the local, state, and federal level — will continue to address serious issues in our society, and it is a shame they have not done so previously. Target Field has in no way prevented our government from acting on these issues, however. Hennepin County would have no more money for your neighbor than they do today if the perfectly legal tax had not been enacted.

    My suggestion to you is that instead of moralizing to those of us who enjoy fun and believe government can be a conduit to more than simply addressing major problems in society, you spend your energy lobbying for the government to address some of those issues you care about.

    You might be surprised who would support you in your endeavor — I would, for one. We need to spend more money on taking care of our most vulnerable individuals, and we need to concentrate on supporting and rebuilding our infrastructure. On that I believe we are in complete agreement.

    Again, that is not a goal mutually exclusive to the existence of Target Field. So instead of continually harping on something that has been done and mindlessly blasting those who disagree with you on the scope of what government can and should do, how about we look forward to what we can do together to improve our community in the future?

    In the meantime — see you at the ballpark tomorrow! As a Hennepin County taxpayer, I will be enjoying the fruits of my tax dollars (I’ll be sure to thank myself as well as the Pohlads) at the park tomorrow with 40,000 fellow Minnesotans. I absolutely cannot wait.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/14/2010 - 01:18 am.

    //Now, it would be great for Hennepin County (and all of Minnesota) to prove to the debbie downers that government can both assist with the construction of a sports venue AND deal with other issues as well; the two are not, as some would have you believe, mutually exclusive.

    I went back and looked at your first post and maybe I misinterpreted the last part of it. It looked to me like you’re teeing up for yet another bailout for the Vikings, but as I look at it a second time you may have simply been calling for renewed attention to civic issues now that the stadium is built. If the latter was your intention my response was inappropriate and I apologize to you and everyone else. Really, I don’t want ruin baseball for anyone. On the other hand, if you’re gonna start angling for yet another stadium, yeah, that’s gonna make me angry, and you’re gonna hear about it whether you think it’s effective or not.

    By the way I don’t know where you get that fascists thing, I’ve discussed fascism here and there but I don’t think I made that claim regarding the stadium, although it sounds familiar I think it was someone else that said that.

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