The Timberwolves are being criticized for selling the spot on the back of Target Center just in time for the baseball playoffs.
The Minnesota Timberwolves triggered a major controversy Thursday when the team began putting up a giant sign on the back wall of Target Center overlooking Target Field. Wolves officials hope to have it in place by the opening of next Wednesday's Twins playoff run.
The sign, which promotes a health care conglomerate based in the Dakotas, will dominate the view above the right-field bleachers. As a public relations ploy, however, the Wolves may have struck out.
It was criticized Thursday by the president of the Twins, the head of the city's ballpark authority and members of the Hennepin County Board and Minneapolis City Council.
"I'm just disgusted by it," said Council Member Lisa Goodman, whose district includes the ballpark. She said "it makes me sick" that the city cannot stop it.
Mike Opat, who chairs the County Board, said the 2,800-square-foot sign will "cheapen" the public art and spirit of Target Plaza.
Twins President Dave St. Peter said he always knew the ballpark "would be ambushed by a sign of this nature, either on Target Center or somewhere else." He said, "What we were most surprised by is the sheer size of the sign ... how the sign dominates the civic gathering place known as Target Plaza."
The Wolves were hardly apologetic.
Chris Wright, the Wolves' president, said the Twins and the city have underscored the business opportunities the new baseball park are generating, and the Wolves, like others, want to reap the benefits.
"This is a business," Wright said. "We are a business that is taking advantage of the increased traffic and commerce around the Warehouse District today."
Construction of the sign began Thursday at the corner of 6th Street and 2nd Avenue N.
Sanford Health last year became a large integrated health care system when it merged with Fargo-based MeritCare Health System. It claims to be the nation's largest rural nonprofit health care system.
The Wolves won the right to sell ad space on the wall earlier this year. After Target Center operator AEG Management MN denied the team's request to sell ad space, the Wolves sued. The team argued that operating agreements gave them advertising rights, and a judge agreed.
St. Peter said the Twins followed the matter for a year and debated the subject with the Wolves for the several months. He said he had "tremendous respect" for the Wolves and had "enjoyed a wonderful relationship." Nonetheless, "I was shocked" by the size of the sign, he said.
He said the "vision" of Target Plaza "was to create a public gathering space for the city, largely focused on public art. Needless to say, commercial advertising of this nature was never part of the plan."
Goodman said the council voted to allow signs that large in 2006 when the First Avenue nightclub and other businesses wanted large signs in the city's entertainment district, before Target Field was contemplated.
Dan Kenney, executive director of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which operates Target Field, said, "we spent a lot of time and money to try to transform what we described as a desolate freeway corridor into an attractive and welcoming public park." He said the new sign is "not a positive addition to the public realm."
Wright declined to say how much Sanford paid. He said the Wolves and Sanford had an "integrated relationship" that includes sponsorship of preseason exhibition games and a campaign to raise funds for research on Type 1 diabetes.
He said he found it "interesting" that St. Peter talked about the need to play down commercial advertising. "Target Plaza itself is one big ad," he said. "Would you say there is a massive level of commercialism inside the ballpark? ... I don't begrudge the Twins any level of success from attendance, wins, sponsorship. I don't know why they would begrudge us any level of success, either. We're fans of the Twins."
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this article. Furst • 612-673-7382