Planners get glimpse of Target prototype

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER
  • Star Tribune
  • May 3, 2009 - 1:36 PM

Ask people to name a Twin Cities building with a timeless design, and you might hear about the Foshay Tower, the IDS Center or the State Capitol Building.

Target stores seem unlikely candidates. Yet "timeless" was the word company representatives used last week to describe their prototype store design to a group of city planners touring Target Corporation's headquarters and its property development operations.

Nobody rolled their eyes. In fact, many of the people in town last week for the American Planning Association national conference let Target know their interest in having the Minneapolis-based retailer building stores in their communities. Mary Schaffer, a lead design project manager at Target, said several planners on the tour gave her business cards to pass on to the company's property development staff.

The Target tour, which also included a visit to the downtown headquarters, was one of the most popular conference activities. It was fully booked all eight times it was offered and even outdrew a tour of area breweries.

Anybody who thought the tour would give them access to high-level company information was in for a big surprise. The headquarters portion of the tour didn't go beyond the second floor, where common areas for employees include a spacious lounge outfitted with armchairs and a baby grand piano.

Tour guide John Whelan, a senior project architect at Target, told people they couldn't take any photographs -- not even of the corporate art, like the towering Dale Chihuly glass sculpture inside the ground-floor lobby or the massive, crystal-encrusted painting of Bullseye, the bull terrier who is the company's mascot.

The no-photo rule also applied when the tour continued to Target's property development operation, which is tucked away on the 11th floor of an adjacent office building. Photos and renderings of existing stores and some under development line the walls, most with notes scribbled in the margins.

Whelan told the planners Target's property development operation has about 60 architects, enough to qualify it as a large architecture firm in downtown if it were a standalone business. (Spokeswoman Jill Hornbacher later said the number of architects is lower than that but declined to be specific.) Store design is overseen by Senior Vice President Rich Varda, an architect whose work outside Target includes the Musical Instrument Museum set to open next year in Phoenix. Retired CEO Robert Ulrich is a major donor of the project.

The property development group also includes several hundred designers, engineers, construction professionals and market research specialists. In addition to stores, the group designs Target distribution centers and corporate offices nationwide.

"We control the design for all the buildings that we do," Whelan said. But he also said there's a menu of variations to adjust a store's exterior to fit its local surroundings. A California store might have a mission-style exterior while one in Florida might have shutters and pergolas to give it a coastal look.

In Edina, a SuperTarget that opened in 2007 near Southdale is a result of several changes in design, building materials and landscaping, including green space and plazas to link the store with other nearby shopping areas. The building has a distinctive flagstone and metal facade, glass entryways that glow at night and a sleek design that makes it look less bulky than the smaller Target Greatland it replaced.

Flexible designs

Target might consider its store prototype timeless, but it's hardly static. Whelan said the design is evolving, with major changes coming about every four years. The latest version features more upscale finishes, like brick. The new prototype also includes more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly features such as recycled building materials. Some stores now have skylights and solar panels.

Although the red trim, bull's-eye logo and other elements are the same in every store, each one built has its set of unique architectural drawings. A store that opened last year near Austin, Texas, had a terrace added to the exterior to different elevations on the building site, Whelan said.

Target store footprints also vary, with multilevel stores in some downtowns, including Minneapolis. One pictured on the property developments office wall was in a four-level building in Brooklyn, with a Target on the top two floors and other shops and a subway and train terminal on the lower levels. Another featured store, which opened last fall in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., has Target's "raised single-level" design -- a store built above ground-level parking. Schaffer said the design requires about half the acreage of a traditional Target that has an adjacent parking lot.

Mark Olinger, director of planning, community and economic development in Madison, Wis., said Target's ability to adapt to urban settings was a primary reason he signed up for the tour. The city now has two Targets on the far edges of town plus a couple of others in nearby suburbs, but Olinger said he's curious about whether one might fit in near State Street, the principal commercial corridor near the University of Wisconsin. "With growing urbanization that kind of flexibility is key," he said.

Target currently has 1,699 stores nationwide and is in every state except Vermont, where it's been limited by state regulations around building codes for mass retailers and smaller trade areas, according to Hornbacher. It opened 114 new stores last year, including some that were remodeled or relocated.

Like many retailers dealing with the weak economy, Target has trimmed its expansion plans. This year it will open about 75 stores, including rebuilt outlets. It expects to open five to 30 stores in 2010, she said.

Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723

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