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Think Target Center, not Field: Our 20-year-old arena needs some love, too

With new stadium next door, Target Center has some valuable advertising space to market.
Photo illustration/Original MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
With new stadium next door, Target Center has some valuable ad space to market.

A sports facility is about to open in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. It is a monument to a new age in sports economics. It has about 60 luxury suites to aid in the team’s finances and to satisfy the desire of high-end customers. It has wider concourses than other previous Twin Cities facilities to allow for more points of sale for food and souvenirs. It recognizes that females are sports fans, too, what with the necessary abundance of women’s bathrooms.

Remember that anticipation? It was 20 years ago.

That’s when a dazzling new-wave sports palace known as Target Center opened to much fanfare for its prime tenant, the NBA Timberwolves. The building was especially applauded for being privately built by two North Minneapolis success stories named Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner, health-club entrepreneurs turned major league sports owners.

Today, as the Twins open Target Field, ticket buyers can gaze out from the third base side of the new ballpark, look toward the Minneapolis skyline and gulp at the less-than-attractive blocky and blank facade of neighboring Target Center staring them in the face.

What’s to become of the arena?
In the hoopla that is Target Field’s Opening Day, it may be a downer — but it is appropriate — to wonder about what’s to become of the arena, a sports edifice that was designed in the 1980s, that was impolitely outshined by St. Paul’s publicly funded Xcel Energy Center in 2000 and is now in need of, at the very least, repositioning in the marketplace.

A $60 million or so facelift inside — to move it into the 21st century — would be nice, too, but that ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

As Wolfenson and Ratner’s fortunes tumbled in the economic downturn of the early 1990s, the arena was rescued by the City of Minneapolis. After all, Target Center was that era’s centerpiece of the Warehouse District. Fifteen years later, the city still owes about $50 million on the arena mortgage. City Finance Officer Patrick Born has recently and deftly re-jiggered the arena’s finance plan to allow for another $50 million over the next 10 years to keep the building healthy — not to “improve” it, but to make sure its bones and nervous system — electricity, plumbing, waste management — remain state-of-the-art.

Because of Wolves attendance and the economics of non-sports events — such as concerts and family shows — Target Center operates in the red. The city alone picks up about $1.5 million in operating losses annually, with arena management company AEG covering the rest.

It’s no secret we have too many arenas and entertainment venues in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and both Target Center and Xcel Energy Center suffer from the glut as they compete for the same shows, with the artists and promoters benefiting the most, and the buildings eating it.

But don’t worry. The Timberwolves aren’t asking for a new arena. In fact, Timberwolves CEO Rob Moor, who, among other things, oversees strategy and facility issues for team owner Glen Taylor, wants Target Center to be known as a building that can adapt, not be disposed of, that can be an example of healthy longevity, not sports facility obsolescence.

Arena wants to be ‘model of sustainability’
“Maybe it’s not the newest in town, maybe it’s not the shiniest, but let’s not create disposable facilities,” Moor said of Target Center. “Can we change this into a model of sustainability and a good use of our resources?”

Unlike the Metrodome, which was dubbed as “economically obsolete” for the Twins in the mid-’90s, Target Center is not for the NBA. The team and city have spiffed up the bowl of the arena in recent years. The team’s lockers have been improved by Taylor. Sound for concerts has been upgraded. The team has configured suites to address a market demand for lower-cost club seating.

Target Center
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
The First Avenue North side of Target Center offers a barrage of signage.

“It’s like remodeling your home — where do you stop?” asked Moor, who grew up in Switzerland and brings a certain European preservation mentality to his job. “Purely spending money isn’t going to guarantee me that people will be proud of Target Center. We have the opportunity to become a facility that Minnesota is proud of.”

Already, the arena has an exemplary green roof and, as part of the ongoing “refreshing” of the building, Moor would like to see it embrace a continuing green identity. Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium, the University of Minnesota’s new football playground, have gone the LEED route. It’s more difficult to take an older building and green it up, but Moor wants to do that; making sure new needed motors in escalators are energy-efficient, using non-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint when sprucing up the place, and innovative trash-hauling techniques.

Moor wants Target Center to stop being old in the eyes of customers, and “start being clever.” You’ve got to root for that.

Target Center and the Wolves need to be nimble, too. The arrival of more luxury suites and club seats in Target Field and at TCF stadium has stressed the team on sponsorships and suite sales, because there is only so much corporate money to go around, and some of it has migrated out of Target Center to the next-new-things, costing the Wolves “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Moor said.

Which takes us back to that ugly, blocky façade that sits atop Second Avenue North. For the first 20 years of its existence, that surface on the unseen side of Target Center had no value at all. It could be viewed intermittently from parking lots and freeways, but there was no captive audience for advertisers to affect.

Now it is eminently viewable by the 40,000 fans who will regularly fill Target Field and, more importantly, by TV cameras showing the Minneapolis skyline to viewers at home. That piece of aerial real estate is so valuable it was recently the subject of a law suit and three-day trial. The Timberwolves sued AEG Management after AEG said it wanted to control that space because it was so valuable. Hennepin County District Court Judge Charles A. Porter ruled in favor of the Wolves, who always believed their lease gave them control of this newly valuable signage opportunity.

But that’s not all. That signage is wrapped up in Moor’s ongoing negotiations with Target Corp. to extend the naming rights to the arena. Target pays about $1 million a year for its name to be on the arena, a deal that expires in 2011.

According to court documents, a Target representative told AEG reps that “the new exterior signage would have to be part of the naming rights deal if Target is to renew its agreement” with the Wolves. The current Target-Wolves deal prohibits the team from selling any advertising in or out of the arena to any “competing retailer.” But what if Target — which has invested so much in the ballpark and its surrounding cityscape — bows out of its arena partnership?

Can you imagine how much Target and the Twins would freak out if the Wolves sold Walmart or JCPenny a massive sign that blared into the eyes of spectators at Target Field and that was visible for all those gathering in Target Plaza? Not to mention all those watching in their living rooms at home?

Moor said he hopes Target will extend its naming rights deal with the arena, a publicly owned building that needs to live a long, prosperous and clever life.

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

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 04/12/2010 - 10:25 am.

    My two cents it was a waste of money just like the new TCF stadium. We cannot support 4 major league teams and a Big 10 football program.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/12/2010 - 11:19 am.

    So to sum up: The people of MPLS owe as much for the arena now as they did when they bought it twenty years, and it’s costing them 1.5 million a year at time when they’re laying off police officers and fire fighters for lack of funding. And look at all the development it’s created!

    Perfect example of how we literally create welfare programs to keep pro-athletes working while we lay off people who actually work for the public.

    By the way this was never a shinning example of a privately financed pro sports facility, the term for it is: “bait n switch”. This was a public bail out for pro sports. We don’t need to be bitter, but we need to be clear about this.

  3. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 04/12/2010 - 11:50 am.

    Count me as one who would love to see some billboards on Target Center. I have seats along the 3rd base line at TF and TC is ugly. A well placed Miller Lite or KFAN sign would be welcome over what I have to look at now.

  4. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 04/12/2010 - 12:07 pm.

    It’s time for all concerned to take a pause, take a deep breath, and look to the future and viable possibilities of Target Center and its environs.

    Target Corporation has great marketing and/or advertising potential with keeping its sponsorship of ‘Target Center’. The T-wolves and Target should hammer out an iron-clad deal that is beneficial to both parties with any rancor.

    Target should realize that not continuing sponsorship of the center would be a marketing nightmare. If the big guns at Walmart get their greedy hooks on the Target Center’s signage, Target Field’s ad spaces will be come the Walmart paradox. Would that be MN Nice?

    Come on, folks! Let’s turn the lemons into lemonade for the benefit of the local folks. It’s time to stop complaining about the economy, lack of resources, questionable venue support policies, and the ersatz politics that permeate all discussions.

    It’s time to show the world that Minnesotans can create miracles of the provincial adversities. Let’s renew our great MN spirit and can-do philosophies. Our MN heritage and future are at stake.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/12/2010 - 12:29 pm.

    //Come on, folks! Let’s turn the lemons into lemonade for the benefit of the local folks. It’s time to stop complaining about the economy, lack of resources, questionable venue support policies, and the ersatz politics that permeate all discussions.

    It’s time to show the world that Minnesotans can create miracles of the provincial adversities. Let’s renew our great MN spirit and can-do philosophies. Our MN heritage and future are at stake.

    Huh? What the heck are you talking about? What difference does it make who puts their signs on the arena? As long at they pay, who cares? It’s certainly not my problem. This has nothing to do with local can-do spirit, it’s between the T-Wolves and whoever buys the naming rights. The folks at Target are going make whatever decision they make based on economics, not fruit. Tell ya this though, it’s looks like somebody should be able to come up another million and half a year so the poor folks of MPLS can at least get off the hook for that. Can’t they just raise the rent or something?

  6. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 04/12/2010 - 02:15 pm.

    To Paul Udstrand;
    Yes, it primarily has to do with naming rights but you don’t see the light of the adverse ramifications if Target Corporation does not come through with further renewed Center sponsorship.

    I was empirically writing about the lemons into lemonade analogy. One should be looking toward the future when times are adverse and tough. The present economy, our personal financial status, and the gallimauphri we call politics all create a personal shortsightedness that is stifling personal, business, civic, and historical visions.

    When you read or watch the news you wonder if the world is going mad. The same holds true for the negativity that permeates our everyday lives. Your comments about “…the poor folks of MPLS…” getting off the proverbial ‘hook’ is what I am talking about.

    Who says we are on that hook? Whatever Target Center and Target Corp. decide should be in the best interests of all concerned. It’s a matter of civic interest and regional pride if the hometown local businesses come to some mutual agreement. If local businesses can and would advertise on T-Center’s North face then fine. The last ad I would want to see is a Walmart one. Think about it. Grain Belt, and KFAN, Target, and General Mills would be locally better than Wally World signage.

    Turn the lemons of business and life into lemonade. There is too much negativism in the local politic. It’s about time we become a little more progressive and above all BE POSITIVE about our future realities. Let’s stop complaining about things and work toward solving the problems.

    Life is too short to keep hacking and whining away about business and political missteps. It’s time for the good folks to come up with positive solutions for positive outcomes. The same holds true for Target Center and its environs. Part of this MinnPost story is alluding to that fact if only we see beyond the near present reality.

    “If you are not part of the solution[s], then, you must be part of the problem[s].”—O.M.Ferrell

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/12/2010 - 02:29 pm.

    //Target Center and Target Corp. decide should be in the best interests of all concerned. It’s a matter of civic interest and regional pride

    Target is not a publicly entity, they will not act one. I’m not being negative, that’s just the way is. Target will do what it thinks is best for it’s shareholders and business plan, if they don’t someone will sue them. That may or may not be good for the community. I’m not being negative Francis, I don’t see the crises here, how can you get anymore positive than that!

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