With Minnesota's unemployment rate at 8.1 percent and the construction trades still in a deep slump, it's especially heartening to see 800 or so tradespeople nearing the homestretch in construction of the future home of the Minnesota Twins.
On a recent warm and sunny May afternoon -- near-perfect conditions for outdoor baseball -- workers toiled in seemingly every corner of Target Field, from the field-level locker rooms to the cantilevered roof. And now that much of the stadium's infrastructure is in place, its personality is emerging as well. On one atrium wall, workers carefully pieced together a floor-to-ceiling, etched-wood mural of Kirby Puckett. And on Thursday, a 26-foot-by-49-foot Twins logo was installed above the high-definition scoreboard.
"It doesn't take much to improve the experience of our fans,'' Twins President Dave St. Peter admitted to a pair of visitors. "The bar hasn't been set very high.''
That's true. Except for the coldest of April and September evenings, Twins fans won't think twice about leaving the Teflon muffin on the other end of downtown Minneapolis. But instead of taking the easiest or cheapest route back to the future, the Twins and their public- and private-sector partners are building a spectacular venue for fans and a valuable addition to our civic infrastructure.
Those who opposed public financing for the stadium may never be satisfied, but the billionaire Pohlad family will deserve this community's thanks when Target Field opens next season. Not for accepting $350 million in public funding, but for ensuring that the stadium will deliver on a promise of adding new life to the Twin Cities, state and region.
Even the best civic marketing campaign cannot match the impact of the image that will beam into millions of living rooms the first time ESPN comes to Target Field in 2010: The downtown Minneapolis skyline, framed by a state-of-the-art facility wrapped in Kasota stone from Mankato. That postcard shot will likely appear on most every recruiting brochure produced by this area's Fortune 500 companies in the years ahead.
When the stadium bill received legislative approval in 2006, the Pohlads pledged $130 million for the project. Critics cried foul, questioning why taxpayers should be on the hook when Twins owner Carl Pohlad consistently topped the list of wealthiest Minnesotans. Fortunately, because of the foresight of the Hennepin County Board, the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, progress won out.
Pohlad, a self-made son of the Depression who died in January, did not amass his fortune by spending freely, and the expectation was that the $130 million figure was set in stone. But relatively quietly over the past several years, the Pohlads and their private-sector partners have invested another $55 million in the stadium. Carl Pohlad was involved in those decisions along with his sons Jim, Bob and Bill. (Jim is now CEO of Twins Sports Inc.)
Those incremental contributions covered infrastructure costs; architectural enhancements that include the Kasota stone and stunning roof canopy; roof-deck seating, à la Wrigley Field; the HD scoreboard, and radiant heat on the main concourse. The Twins and Target also each contributed $4.5 million to improve Target Plaza, the main public space connecting the stadium to 1st Avenue and the downtown entertainment and business district.
That connection is functional and symbolic. The addition of Target Field -- along with the new TCF Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus -- will bolster the competitive standing of the Twin Cities in the national marketplace for corporate recruitment and retention, where quality of life includes the arts and sports.
Win or lose -- although we certainly prefer the former -- the Twins are part of what makes life unique in Minnesota. In a few months, they'll open their new downtown Minneapolis home, bringing outdoor baseball back to Minnesota. Based on our recent preview of the coming attraction, we expect glowing reviews.