Bruce Lambrecht closes his eyes, dreams about the North Loop neighborhood, about links to North Minneapolis, about a “sports corridor” that runs from Target Center to a new transit hub, and he sees things that others don’t.
A dozen years after his first sports facility epiphany, Lambrecht now sees a new Vikings football stadium with lots of stuff around it on the Farmers Market site, a 47-acre plot of land that others embrace, too.
Way back in 1999, Lambrecht looked at a surface parking lot near the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center — known more bluntly as the “garbage burner” — and he saw a Twins ballpark.
No one else did … until they did.
Eventually, after a doozy of a legal battle with Hennepin County, Lambrecht and his partners were paid $29 million for that lot, and today, Target Field stands there triumphantly.
Lambrecht, 61, is back, and he’s weighing in on where a new Vikings stadium should be located. He said he’s a general partner in three warehouse and office buildings near the potential Farmers Market site, but none on it.
But he and the principals of the Albersman & Armstrong planning firm conducted their own study analysis placing a stadium in the North Loop area versus on a Minneapolis City Hall-backed spot on the current Metrodome location.
We wrote extensively about this last week, about how converging forces in downtown Minneapolis and Hennepin County have picked up the drumbeat for the Farmers Market site. As David Albersman, Lambrecht’s colleague put it, “We didn’t invent” the site for a stadium.
But Lambrecht and Albersman have put some qualitative, quantitative and useful meat on the bone for all of us to consider.
Using 10 categories that relate to stadium vibrancy, urban needs and the city’s existing North Loop plan, they rate the Farmers Market site as better in nine ways than the Metrodome site.
In their view, for instance, there is more parking, better roadway access, better bus and rail convergence, closer proximity to the skyway system and more existing bars and restaurants nearby than in the Dome area.
Also, they see the North Loop as the sports and entertainment district of downtown. By contrast, they see the Dome area as a housing, medical and educational zone, what with a variety of hospitals, nearby riverfront residential units and the proximity to the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College.
Only in the dicey area of land assembly does Lambrecht’s analysis show the Farmers Market site at a disadvantage. That’s because there are 17 property owners, and acquisition would be far trickier than for the Dome site or, for that matter, the Arden Hills property.
(I hate to always make Arden Hills an afterthought. Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett is pushing for it, as he should, but it’s hard to take seriously as a Vikings location that makes sense as a statewide asset. However, it seems to be a solid contender.)
Sharing and Caring’s fate
Lambrecht, Albersman and Armstrong have support, from at least one unlikely backer: Sharing & Caring Hands, the homeless shelter and oasis for hungry children and adults situated on the piece of land in question.
The Lambrecht plan would keep in place the institution founded by Mary Jo Copeland. Copeland’s husband, Dick, who is the president of the nonprofit, told MinnPost Monday that he and Mary Jo have never objected to a Vikings stadium concept. But, apparently, a Hennepin County plan would remove their facility.
“They don’t need our land,” Dick Copeland said. “There’s really no need to take our spot.”
He is convinced that city and county officials would love to take him out of the area. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has said he opposes any hardship for Sharing & Caring, and the mayor, of course, favors building a new stadium on the current Metrodome site.
(By the way, in chatting with Twins officials and Copeland, Sharing & Caring and Target Field co-exist as friendly neighbors.)
If the Copelands are on board, that’s one messy political hurdle cleared for any Farmers Market stadium site. It’s just not good tactics to chase homeless children off a site while bringing in a subsidy for a pro sports owner.
Right time to make a case
Lambrecht told MinnPost Monday that he was unveiling his analysis now because there is special value to the Farmers Market/North Loop site, and because there “needs to be a conversation” about the best site, not a fait accompli that the Dome site must be the place, if the stadium is built in the city.
As of Tuesday morning, Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat hadn’t seen Lambrecht’s comparison of the Dome and Farmers Market sites. Nor Mayor Rybak and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale. And no legislators have seen it.
This is the point for sure: If there’s a Vikings stadium built with public funds, doesn’t the public need a fully vetted site discussion?
After Lambrecht first mentioned the current Target Field site in 1999, and after years of discussion, a group called the C-17 (PDF) was formed to analyze locations.
It took this high-level group of citizens and experts a full 18 months to come to a conclusion. It wasn’t jammed down anyone’s throat. The team didn’t pick it.
This time, the legislative session is set to end May 23.
“They’re running out of time,” said Lambrecht. “What we’re trying to do is create a conversation about the Farmers Market based on the real attributes.”
Another interested observer is David Fields, the veteran community development coordinator with the Elliot Park Neighborhood Inc. Fields’ group active near the Metrodome site. He said he’s been in discussions with the Sports Facilities Commission and Vikings for two years now on the future of the site.
But Fields said Monday: “I’ve always been surprised at how many of these major agenda items come so late on the city plate. And even though we’ve seen this coming like a train down the tracks for a number of years, a real serious talk about not only how realistically this can be funded and by whom — and what kind of a local partner you might get, but also where would it be best placed — hasn’t really occurred until the last couple of months. It’s kind of astonishing.”
Lambrecht’s analysis of Farmers Market attributes, the downtown business community’s favorable support and the support of key neighborhood groups, such as 2020 Partners and the North Loop Neighborhood Association, have created buzz for the site.
So far, the Dome site has really only had the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, Mayor Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson as advocates. But, also so far, there’s been no real funding source.
Three years ago, after the wake of the tragic I-35W Bridge collapse, the Urban Land Institute developed a report about the future of downtown, including areas near the bridge.
An advisory panel, in part, wrote this:
“Today, the stadium sits at perhaps the most critical location in Downtown East. Perhaps more than any other factor, it holds the future of the neighborhood. It is strategically located not only at a light-rail station, but also midway between the powerhouse anchors of the University of Minnesota and the CBD.
“Moreover, the Metrodome represents a precious large land assemblage that can be used to create both a neighborhood and a regional anchor. Little question exists that over time, as downtown grows, it will be forced to move east. The speed, character, and quality of that development will be largely determined by the character of the land use at the Metrodome site.
“Whether or not it continues to be used as a sports venue, the site should be required to densify in a mid-rise configuration, incorporate a mix of uses, and provide a landmark design sensitive to the neighborhood it dominates as well as the identity of downtown.”
Fields said his organization has “operated on the assumption” that the new Vikings stadium would be built on the Dome site. But, he acknowledged, if a new stadium weren’t there, it could open up that site for “more housing and neighborhood-scale development.” Indeed, there is an argument that the absence of a new stadium would decrease land values around the Dome site, allowing for more reasonable development on that end of downtown.
But advocates for the Farmers Market site, should not diss the Dome site with bad history. It’s long been the opinion of anti-stadium forces that the Dome is a perfect example of how stadiums don’t generate economic development. All that sprung up near the facility since its 1981 opening was Hubert’s bar across Fifth Street, on Chicago Avenue.
True, but history shows city fathers (and it was all fathers at that point) had no plans for a surrounding entertainment zone to blossom in the 1980s. And that site has long been blocked in by Hennepin County Medical Center and the Star Tribune site.
A decade ago, Chuck Krusell, the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce’s stadium point man, told me that the development of a stadium on that site had nothing to do with an entertainment vision.
“Our interest was in the overall downtown and not whether there’d be a couple of restaurants,” said Krusell, who has since died. “The proximity of entertainment to the stadium was something we didn’t even consider when we picked a site. The question was whether we could get the land and whether it was relatively cheap.”
Two things to consider …
No. 1: No one should make any “economic impact” argument for any stadium, especially a football stadium that houses about 10 major events a year. To the contrary, such an edifice in this stadium-wise community should be located in an area that already has a long-term, rational development plan in today’s — and the future’s — economic reality.
The Pioneer Press this morning quotes Mondale as saying the Vikings like the Arden Hills site in Ramsey County because “It would be a Vikings place.” Perhaps that’s true, but that’s no reason for a public investment. Yes, Vikings ownership will be on the hook for — we hope — as much as half of the cost of the stadium. But if a stadium is truly a “public asset,” then a statewide discussion on location is critical.
The Ramsey County site feels like a 1980s site, not a 21st Century site: surface parking lots, auto-centric, with some dreams that hotels and restaurants will spring up there like dandelions in spring. Good luck on that one.
No. 2: No matter how visionary any of us may be, this entire issue likely comes down to something very basic: cost, including public costs.
Mondale, Gov. Mark Dayton’s stadium czar, repeatedly says he is “agnostic” on stadium location. Taking a page from Krusell’s playbook, Mondale, a pragmatist and dealmaker, seems mostly driven by the potential cost.
All three sites and their backers — Dome/city, Farmers Market/Hennepin County and Arden Hills/Ramsey County — were crunching numbers for a comparison that Mondale will soon release, Mondale said Monday.
“The numbers are still going in the right direction,” Mondale said. “They’re still going down. Having them all knowing this is being put together has created a discipline that is very helpful for the public and the taxpayer. The numbers are going south.”
It could be that the Dome site winds up being the cheapest. That could trump any larger visions, but Lambrecht and Albersman wonder about that.
In their presentation, they state: “A good location with flaws can be remedied; a bad location without flaws cannot.”
But what’s the difference in the pricing? Lambrecht doesn’t know, nor do we. That will be coming soon. That will aid everyone in analyzing the best site.
Some other factors:
• Politics: Hennepin County Board Chairman Opat and Lambrecht are far from bosom buddies. They banged heads over the outcome on the land sale for Target Field. They barely speak. As much as politics make strange bed partners, so, apparently, do stadiums.
• People’s Stadium: Gov. Dayton used that term when he appointed Mondale. As ill-defined as it is, the term at least has helped us to focus on some essentials: a cost-effective, accessible (not only to fans but employees) facility that blendd in with a community. That generic principle — that this stadium return more to the state than it costs the public and that it have some thoughtful, socially responsible and energy efficient attributes — must be maintained.
• Timing: Is there really enough time to decide the best site for a building that could get $300 million in state subsidy and another couple of hundred million in local funds? A half-billion dollars in public funding in three weeks?
Even Mondale acknowledged: “It’s getting tight.”
The current, flawed bill has a site selection mechanism. Right now, that horizon in the bill is February 2012. That’s too far out. But May 23 might be too soon for a discussion on choosing a site.
In the end, as Mondale said, “The numbers have to work.” So does an overall plan. Lambrecht and partners show that the Farmers Market site might make the most urban sense, if not the most efficient dollars and cents.
But history shows that when Lambrecht closes his eyes and envisions stadiums, we might want to take a look, too.
MinnPost’s Jay Weiner has covered sports facilities issues in the Twin Cities since 1993 and the demise of Met Center and public buyout of Target Center. He is the author of “Stadium Games: Fifty Years of Big League Greed and Bush League Boondoggles,” University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
MinnPost Asks Live Interview Series
Join us on Monday, May 16, as MinnPost journalist Jay Weiner interviews Sports Facilities Commission chair Ted Mondale to discuss issues surrounding a new Vikings stadium. Click here for details and ticket information.