One year later than originally planned, the $129 million renovation of the Target Center will begin next summer and conclude in the fall of 2017.
Timberwolves and Lynx COO Rob Moor said he is “95 percent confident” that construction will adhere to a timeline announced Tuesday morning at a press conference in the Target Center ticket lobby. The big losers will be the two-time WNBA champion Lynx, who must find another place to play in 2017 while the final phase of construction is underway.
“When you have a WNBA team, an NBA team, and a concert venue, year round activity, paying the bills, something’s got to give,” Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve said after the final practice before Wednesday night’s deciding Game 5 of the WNBA finals.
“It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re fortunate. The Twin Cities has some very good possible alternate sites, and our organization is going to work really, really hard to limit any disruptions, if you will. There are some teams have gone through it and it’s really killed them. That’s not going to happen with us.”
This season San Antonio saw its attendance decline 37 percent, to a league-low 4,831 per game, when renovations at the AT & T Center forced the Stars to relocate to smaller, older Freeman Coliseum nearby.
The Lynx have seen this coming for awhile; the earlier timeline had them going elsewhere next season. The leading Plan Bs are Williams Arena, where the Lynx played one regular-season game in 2007 and exhibitions in 2005 and ‘12, and the Xcel Energy Center.
But Williams Arena lacks air conditioning, a possible deal breaker. And the Minnesota Wild take priority at Xcel in mid-September, right at WNBA playoff time.
Xcel vice president and general manager Jack Larson, a former Target Center executive, said discussions with the Lynx go back several years, when it wasn’t clear when the renovations might begin. “We would be open to it,” he said, adding playoff dates could be worked out around the Wild’s schedule.
Moor floated one more possibility: a renovated Minneapolis Armory.
Swervo Development bought the former home of the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers in July and plans to convert it from a parking garage into an sports and entertainment venue seating between 3,000 and 5,000. That’s far smaller than what the Lynx averaged this year (9,364) as the second-best draw in the league behind Phoenix (9,946), and the Lynx need every fanny in the seats to break even. Moor prefers proximity to downtown.
“We don’t want to leave the city of Minneapolis if we can help it,” Moor said.
“We’ve very concerned about moving the team. That’s why we want to keep them as close as we can. We’re looking at a couple of different venues so we don’t have to move our fans terribly far.”
Under the revised timeline, the Target Center will remain open through the first two phases of construction. Next summer, the suites will be rebuilt and a larger scoreboard installed. The exterior and loading dock will be overhauled from fall 2016 to spring 2017 while the Timberwolves are in season. Then the building will close for work on a new lobby, restrooms, dressing rooms, remodeled concourses, and food and beverage improvements. The latter is badly needed; the Target Center has the worst food and least imaginative choices of any major venue in the Twin Cities.
“Renovating the Target Center, as opposed to tearing it down and building something new, is a sensible Minnesota solution,” said Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. “It would have cost four times more to tear it down and build something new. That makes no sense. We own this facility as a people, and are investing in this facility as a people.”
The original $155 million renovation plan was downsized to $99 million, then revised upward when Mortenson Construction, the builder, told Target Center officials that wouldn’t cover the full cost of the project. The city of Minneapolis kicked in an additional $24.5 million, with another $5 million coming from the Timberwolves and $500,000 from AEG, which operates the arena. The project was supposed to begin this year and conclude next fall.
“What happened with this timeline is the complexity of this project,” Moor said. “We started this project off very enthusiastic that we were going to get finished sooner rather than later. We were moving with a little, I guess, too much enthusiasm. It’s a very complex project.”
Moor added the team is close to finalizing with Mortenson the guaranteed maximum price of the project, which requires approval by the Minneapolis City Council. Moor expects to present a figure to the Council early next year. The plan does not include replacing the approximately 19,000 seats; Moor said he hopes to find enough savings in other parts of the project to pay for it.
“We think what we’re doing here will eventually become more of a trend across the country,” Moor said. “These public spaces, you want to keep them longer and extend their life span. You go to Europe, public spaces are decades and decades if not centuries old. Here, over the last many years, you’re seeing a lot of enormous projects torn down and being replaced with new and even more enormous things.”
Like the enormous Vikings Stadium rising across town?
“I’m not going to comment on that,” Moor said. “That’s not our business.”
The team also announced an extension of the naming rights agreement with Target, with neither side releasing terms. Previously, Target is believed to have paid $1.5 million per season. Target Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Jones said the extension was a agreed to earlier this year and the announcement withheld until Tuesday, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the building’s opening. Target even sprung for a cake.
“I expect my son to grow up and have kids, and this will still be the Target Center,” Moor said.
His son is 15.