The aging arena has 'good bones and a great location.'
Nine months have passed since the Legislature approved a new Vikings stadium, and, despite a few minor glitches, the project appears to be headed for its scheduled opening in 2016. But progress has stalled on another part of the same legislation: the much-needed renovation of Target Center.
After missing a December deadline, negotiations have resumed among the main players -- the city of Minneapolis, the Timberwolves and AEG, the global sports management firm that operates the city-owned arena. The impasse has involved both the scope of the project and the public/private financial split, although, in separate interviews this week, Mayor R.T. Rybak and Timberwolves CEO Rob Moor each expressed optimism that the sides are close to a resolution. Each declined to discuss details until a full agreement is reached. We hope their optimism is well-founded. Going back to square one shouldn't be an option.
The renovation's price tag was initially estimated at $150 million, with the city expected to cover two-thirds of the cost by redirecting some of its entertainment tax proceeds. Later, the estimate dropped to $130 million, then to $100 million. This week Rybak again mentioned the $130 million figure as the scope of the project appears to be shifting toward including a long-term reserve fund to keep the 22-year-old building from again falling into disrepair. That's a wise move.
As for the split, neither the city nor the Wolves wanted to talk about exact numbers, although it's clear that the city would like the private partners to commit to a larger share than the original one-third.
"We'll take the time that this needs," said Rybak, adding that the deal's complexity is heightened with three parties involved and a bundle of improvements that must be made in phases while the arena remains open.
Of the NBA's 29 arenas, only five are older than Target Center, which opened in 1990. Three of those older buildings -- in New York, Detroit and Oakland -- have undergone major renovations. The other two seem destined for the wrecking ball, with Milwaukee leaning toward replacing the Bradley Center and the Sacramento Kings likely headed for a new home in Seattle.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul market is extremely fortunate to have an NBA owner, Glen Taylor, who is committed to keeping the Wolves and Lynx in place with a sensible renovation and a lease extension rather than demanding a new building -- whether here or in another market -- as a way of boosting his franchise value.
Three kinds of renovations are badly needed at Target Center. First, the loading dock, elevator capacity and back-of-the-house space must be expanded to keep the building competitive for touring concerts and other major shows. Second, fan amenities (premium seating, restaurants, clubs, concessions) must be added to meet team and NBA standards. Third, the building's forbidding, fortress appearance must be made more inviting to fit with the city's emerging entertainment district.
"The contrast with Target Field is huge," said Moor, who sees Target Center as part of the same entertainment complex. "The Twins have one of the best fan experiences in sports," he said, "and it's time for us to refresh this building. It has good bones and a great location."
Possibilities include a large glass feature on First Avenue, a new skyway to the A Ramp parking deck, an extension of Target Plaza that wraps around part of the building and connects to the new Interchange transit hub, and transparent concourses and stairways that open up the building's segmented interior.
To make most of that happen shouldn't be so difficult. A $130 million renovation is a bargain, given the latest price tags on new NBA arenas -- $512 million in Orlando, $1 billion in Brooklyn and a projected $490 million in Seattle. Our message to the city, the team and the management company: Let's more forward.
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