Not all work is finished at new Target Field

A title examiner came out of retirement to try to finish the task of creating a single, clean title for many parcels of land under the stadium.

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Fans may care only about whether the sky is sunny or cloudy, but legally the space above the Twins ballpark is divided into vertical tracts controlled by different entities.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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To fans in the stands, the Twins' new ballpark with all its stone and Kentucky bluegrass looks like it's all wrapped up and done. Behind the scenes, there's still a scramble underway to clean up the real estate titles to the jigsaw patchwork of land the ballpark sits on.

It's no small job, as Target Field sits in one of the oldest parts of a city known for fuzzy property lines.

It has taken since 2006 to determine where, exactly, all boundary lines of the many parcels beneath the stadium lie, and what kind of old and long-lost easements had been granted and who still needs access to what, such as the city of Minneapolis, which owns a storm-water culvert running under third base. The squadron of lawyers, surveyors and title experts who've worked on the project say there are gaps and overlaps between parcels, areas that weren't platted at all, records that go back to before Minnesota became a state (1858) and bloopers in some of the deeding.

About 8 acres of the land belonged to the estimated 70 landowners who were part of Land Partners II, which pitched a highly publicized battle with the county over the pricetag after the land was condemned. They eventually agreed to about $29 million. But there were other parcels belonging to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the city of Minneapolis and the BNSF Railway, among others.

There were dusty old rights and easements for railroad uses, an old meatpacking company and utilities. The Walker family -- which originally made its money in lumber and owned a lot of land in Minneapolis though is probably now best known for the art museum -- still technically owned a little piece of 7th Street due to some deeding error but never claimed it, said Carla Pedersen, a lawyer at McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb that handles all the legal work for the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the public agency that owns the 15.85 acres that the ballpark, plaza and parking lots sit on.

"This land has incredible messy titles," Pedersen said. "I've been practicing for about 20 years and this is the most complex survey and registration project that I have ever worked on."

Pedersen, the ballpark authority and Hennepin County are now working to convert the whole shebang into a clean registered title under the more modern Torrens system -- a once-and-for-all certificate that, like the title to a car, pretty much eliminates the possibility of someone else claiming some legal right to it. The system is named for Sir Robert Torrens, an Irishman who formulated the new system of land transfer in Australia in the early 1800s.

Many property owners in Minnesota have abstract property that doesn't have one certificate of title issued by the examiner of titles, but comes with a fee simple title -- essentially a collection of old paperwork recording the changing of hands. Most of the country still operates with abstract property.

Transferring all the records into the more legally defensible Torrens format is a job so daunting that Hennepin County brought back Ed Bock, who retired last June after 11 years as Hennepin County's chief title examiner, to handle it. Bock has been working part time in the Government Center since September, surrounded by plat maps and paper trying to square away the ballpark registration issue.

"It's as boring as watching molasses slide downhill," said Bock.

The next big hurdle is filing the vertical registered land survey for all the air rights and other uses in and around Target Field, including the Cedar Lake Bike Trail. That survey should be ready to file this summer.

That's right. As fans stuff themselves with bratwurst and brew, someone will be recording who has rights to the air they breathe. The ballpark authority is carving up Target Field into 114 vertical tracts to accommodate everything.

"It's like a 17-layer cake," said Dan Kenney, the ballpark authority's executive director. "We control this amount of airspace and another entity controls this, and we control that. It's very complicated."

And largely invisible. The only physical evidence of the title maneuvers that fans will see will be the 2 1/2-inch bronze disks that will be embedded in the ground in the next month or two to mark the precise new legal boundaries of the Target Field property.

The most visible of the 55 or so disks will be on the North Star Commuter Rail platform, said Keith Dahl, who directed the land survey group that's been surveying the ballpark land.

"This work definitely needed to be done to put this whole crossword puzzle together," Dahl said. "This thing is going to be squeaky clean forever from now on. We've got to protect everybody's rights out here."

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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