In the 10 seasons since the Minnesota Twins started playing at Target Field, development has boomed in the nearby North Loop neighborhood. New apartments and condos, restaurants, breweries and offices have sprung up, and soon a 2,000-seat theater for live music will open.
But until the power-hitting Bomba Squad emerged this season, fans were left largely disappointed by the pledges of team owners — going back to Carl Pohlad himself — that a revenue-generating new ballpark would ensure the team would be more competitive on the field.
That didn’t happen. Monday’s game against the Yankees is only the third postseason home game ever to be played at Target Field; the first two, in the ballpark’s inaugural 2010 season, were consecutive losses to the Yankees.
By way of contrast, from 2000 to 2009 the Twins played nine postseason games at the Metrodome.
“The won-loss record does not look the way we had hoped it would,” said Twins President and CEO Dave St. Peter, who has been with the team since 1990. “The missing component has been a sustained competitive team.”
He added: “We’re finally en route to being able to check that box as well.”
St. Peter said it was revenue from the ballpark that allowed the team to finally build the Bomba Squad. Even in the team’s worst year at Target Field, the season-ticket base was 12,000; at the Dome, he said, that was the “upper echelon” of season-ticket sales.
With 10 seasons on the books, however, Target Field has delivered in just about every other way.
After threats of contraction, the Twins stayed alive and in Minnesota. The Pohlad family still owns the team and has seen its value soar from $405 million in 2010 to $1.2 billion this year, according to Forbes.
Hennepin County’s $350 million share of the $555 million ballpark is on track to be paid off in 2026 — 11 years early.
“It’s even exceeded my expectations in terms of what’s been developed in that neighborhood,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who was instrumental in putting together the ballpark deal.
At Target Field, the Twins reap all revenue from advertising and sponsorship. At the Dome, most of that revenue went to the Vikings.
The increased revenue from Target Field has allowed the Twins to build residential player development academies in Fort Myers, Fla., the team’s home for spring training, and the Dominican Republic, a country rich with baseball talent.
The Twins ensured the ballpark’s high-end quality by making their own investments in it. The team kicked in money to install limestone in place of concrete, and sprang for Brazilian walnut planks to camouflage pedestrian ramps.
And though fans haven’t always packed the ballpark, especially in the down years, there’s little dispute that the sightlines far surpass those of the Dome.
What most fans didn’t notice in the move from the Dome to Target Field were the upgrades provided for players.
At the Dome, players had to trot out to a temporary batting cage behind right field; now the cage belongs to the Twins alone and is behind the team dugout. The therapy tubs are bigger and more plentiful.
Over an 81-game home season, those things make a big difference, said former Twins MVP Justin Morneau, who now works in the broadcast booth. The retired first baseman started his 10 years with the Twins in the Dome in 2003 and moved to Target Field before finishing his career with other clubs.
“We came over here and we were excited,” Morneau said. “This is one of the most beautiful parks in all of baseball.”
Since Target Field opened, the Twins have invested $34 million in capital improvements, including redesigning a gate, adding restaurants and seating in center field, installing drink rails and moving the mammoth catcher’s mitt sculpture on the plaza off its pedestal for better photo ops.
The Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the ballpark’s public landlord, has invested $7 million for LED field lights, a wider concourse and operable windows for Bat & Barrel, the once private restaurant in right field that’s now open to all fans.
“I don’t think anybody can dispute the fact that the Twins and the Pohlads have been wonderful partners,” said Opat, a leading advocate for public financing for the ballpark. He proposed a countywide sales tax to back the bonds, which the Legislature approved in 2006.
Matt Hoy, the team’s senior vice president for operations, said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the Pohlad family’s openness to ballpark enhancements, especially those to better accommodate fans. “Not once have I ever been told I can’t do what I want,” he said.
The biggest adjustment came with the generational shift in ballpark behavior, Hoy said. While older fans typically stay in their seats, he said, “people like to move around now.” The team created “neighborhoods” at the ballpark, such as play areas, restaurants and standing-room-only spots for socializing.
‘Like a giant food court’
Target Field was shoehorned into a former surface parking lot adjacent to the county’s garbage burner. Despite concerns about odor or debris, the burner on the ballpark’s northwest side largely has gone unnoticed, while on the other side the outfield opens to a sweeping southeast view of downtown.
“We started with a challenging site and we made major investments outside the gates to make sure the ballpark, transit, and new development could work together,” said Dan Kenney, executive director of the ballpark authority.
Target Field Station sits just outside the ballpark, serving as a nexus of two light-rail transit lines and a commuter rail. The Southwest and Bottineau lines are planned to go there as well, further ensuring the area’s importance as a metro hub.
Tim Bildsoe, president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, moved from Plymouth with his wife to a condo near Target Field four years ago. He said they enjoy the neighborhood, bookended by the Mississippi River to the north and the ballpark to the south.
“In between, it’s restaurants and a great lifestyle,” he said.
Gameday parking can be a problem, but to Bildsoe the ballpark is the neighborhood star and a catalyst for the area’s live-work-play amenities. He and his wife bought a season pass to the ballpark, allowing them to enter and wander without having seats.
“We go there to have dinner and watch a few innings,” he said. “It’s like a giant food court.”
The area surrounding the Dome wasn’t known for fan-friendly activity. When the Twins were 10 years into their tenure there, in 1991, they were already looking for an escape plan. That’s not the case here, St. Peter said.
“I think of this as a 100-year facility like a Wrigley Field or a Fenway,” he said.
Nevertheless, acquiring the mystique of such storied parks likely will require more than bricks, bats and broomstick-sized bratwurst.
“The only way to take that to another level,” Morneau said, “is to win.”