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The unbearable lights of Target Field

How residents of two Minneapolis condo buildings may have finally won their war on post-game lighting at the Twins’ stadium.

The game is over at Target Field, and the lights go… up.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority/Tim Davis

Since it opened in 2010, Target Field has played to rave reviews, lauded for its atmosphere, its amenities and even its food. ESPN The Magazine ranked it as the No. 1 stadium in North America (Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul was third). And, oh yeah, it’s LEED Silver certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Yet all along there was one group of Minneapolis residents much less enamored of the $550 million ballpark. They live in the Falls and Pinnacle condominium complex at the foot of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in Northeast Minneapolis. By day, many can see the ballpark from their windows and balconies. By night, they can see the lights.

Boy, can they see the lights.

The lights at issue are not those that help fans see the players and the players see the ball, but rather a separate set that helps the cleaning crews see all the garbage those fans leave behind. Called housekeeping lights, they shine onto the seating areas for hours after each game or event. They also shine directly into the homes of people who live in the 19-story-Falls and 27-story Pinnacle buildings.

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“We can read by those lights at night,” said Dan Mather, the president of the Falls and Pinnacle homeowners association.

Certainly this falls into the category of #firstworldproblems. These are condos, after all, with lovely views of the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis. But the glare has been so severe that residents have had to forgo using their balconies and close their curtains on the west side of the buildings on game nights, and the issue has come up enough that the Twins have posted an explanation on the team’s website. (The problem might have been even more widespread had the huge scoreboard and then the parking ramp beyond center field not shielded residences further downriver.)

For years, Mather has been pushing the Twins and the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the public entity that technically owns Target Field, to do something about the problem. He asked that the team either adjust the lights or adjust the cleaning schedule, but the team insists it must start right after the game to fit in a cleaning schedule that lasts more than eight hours and covers one million square feet of stadium. 

And if you think this is all somebody else’s concern, well, you’re part of the problem too — at least if you attend Twin games or one of the recent concerts at Target Field. It takes two hours just to pick up all the garbage left behind by fans, said Twins spokesman Kevin Smith. Then, the entire seating area is pressure washed. All told, 150 workers spend all night and into the morning cleaning up after fans. “If we could just get rid of sunflower seeds it would help a lot,” jokes Smith.

While there had been some work done to change the angle of various bulbs, Mather said he has been working with the team and stadium authority and some improvements have been made to the lighting and cleaning schedule.

Then came the Major League Baseball All Star Game. In order to paint the extra logos on the grass between the dugouts and the field, crews not only turned on the housekeeping lights behind the plate and along third base, they also employed a rarely used bank of lights on the first base side. That brought new complaints from the condo owners, and then a call from Minneapolis City Councilmember Jacob Frey, whose Ward 3 includes the neighborhood.

Frey said the team and authority have been cooperative, but the new round of complaints also helped spur some action. “One of our goals is to be a good neighbor,” said Dan Kenney, the executive director of the ballpark authority. The first base lights will not be used anymore, he said. In addition, he asked a photographer to visit Mather after a recent home game and take pictures with a telephoto lens to try to identify the offending bulbs.

Six to eight individual bulbs were re-aimed last week to avoid shining directly at the buildings. And while the full test won’t occur until the next Twins game, Mather said he noticed a big difference after the recent Paul McCartney concert at Target Field. 

“I definitely noticed a lot of them that were re-aimed,” Mather said Monday. “It’s not nearly as bad as it was.” 

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Four years and many phone calls and meetings later, Mather’s persistence might have finally paid off. “I believe in the erosion theory,” he said. “You don’t blast the mountain, you just wear it down.”