The Impossible Ballpark

"Nearly every man who develops an idea
works it up to the point where it looks impossible,
and then he gets discouraged.
That's not the place to become discouraged."
- Thomas A. Edison

Before baseball claimed it, the land beneath Target Field held a busy railyard for the better part of a century. At first, the trains brought mostly lumber. Then, in 1892, the City Market moved to the block where Target Plaza is today, and the railroad tracks began bringing boxcars of fresh produce that shoppers could select by hand.

The City Market moved away in 1938, and railroads began to decline. As the trains receded, the old railyard splintered into many small parcels to house mostly transportation companies. In 1985, Jon Monson and Rich Pogin began reassembling a larger site with the belief that the downtown core would eventually expand to the north. The acquisitions were made possible by a group of 70 small investors known as Land Partners II. The group razed the small, vacant industrial buildings and created Rapid Park, the largest surface parking lot in downtown Minneapolis.

Then, in 1999, eleven years before the ballpark's first pitch would be thrown, Bruce Lambrecht stood where home plate is now, looked up at the Minneapolis skyline, and became the first to imagine a modern, urban ballpark at this location. In addition to exceptional freeway connections, the site already featured substantial parking in the form of three large, under-utilized municipal ramps. But, with light rail and commuter rail lines still years in the future, and the much-maligned HERC plant as a neighbor, Lambrecht's idea was met with great skepticism. Initially, only a few friends and family members agreed with him on the site's potential, most notably his mother, Marlys. A life-long Twins fan, her encouragement from day one provided the only inspiration he needed.

The first step was to make sure that the eight-acre lot wasn't too small. Architect and urban planner Dave Albersman did extensive research into whether the site could hold a modern baseball facility. He and Don Armstrong took measurements, laid diagrams of existing ballparks over maps of the property, and created the first concept drawings of a ballpark on the site. These earliest drawings already showed the configuration as it would ultimately be built. The park would be nestled between the bridges, cantilevered out over the remaining railroad tracks, and connected to Target Center and the rest of the city by way of a plaza over the freeway.

They were able to show that, even though it would be a tight fit, it was definitely possible.

Among the first to be convinced of the site's potential was Mark Oyaas. He realized that energy from the HERC plant might be used at the ballpark, and led a special task force which selected Rapid Park as the best available location for a new ballpark in the fall of 2000. Oyaas and Charles Neerland also founded New Ballpark, Inc., a civic group led by Jim Campbell, whose mission was to provide community support for a compact, transit-oriented facility that would partner with an existing neighborhood. Soon, Hennepin County commissioner Mark Stenglein and Minneapolis city council president Jackie Cherryhomes became official champions of the site.

The group could now see that a ballpark in this location might anchor a whole new Minneapolis neighborhood. Dean Dovolis, of DJR Architects, worked up line drawings for a collection of mixed-use buildings to fill the former rail trench. Duncan Malloch then transformed these ideas into full artistic renderings of offices, condos and apartments nestled around a compact ballpark. The new neighborhood was christened Twinsville.

Next, Pogin, assisted by Becky Spartz and Dan O'Neill assembled cost estimates and developed a variety of models for financing a ballpark. Then, with their vision complete, it was time to hit the road. Mike Sable facilitated over 100 meetings with legislators and civic leaders across the state — from Luverne to Owatonna to Fergus Falls — laying the groundwork for later success at the Capitol.

Their final presentation to legislators, introduced by Chuck Leer, was a video titled Stranded, featuring the song of the same name by Van Morrison. In it, nursing home residents in Glencoe, New Ulm and Minneapolis talked of their love for the Twins and the importance of baseball games in their lives. Without baseball, they would be "stranded."

To get the plan passed, baseball fan Shane Nackerud provided a "Legislative Scorecard" so accurate that it became possible to identify and harness the support which existed going into the 2006 Minnesota legislative session. Ultimately, the critical pieces were provided by Hennepin County commissioner Mike Opat, who recognized the site's strengths, crafted a politically-acceptable financing plan, and stuck with the plan through a legislative minefield.

From the signing of the bill in May 2006 until opening day in April of 2010, it would take thousands of people to design and build the new ballpark on the former Rapid Park parking lot. But it was a small group of urban visionaries, led and fueled by Lambrecht's enthusiasm, who set the plan in motion. They dedicated seven years of their time and resources to providing a significant new asset to the city, state and Twins fans everywhere. They had seen something in that skyline view that no one else could, and worked tirelessly to help others see what they imagined: a modern, compact, transit-oriented, urban ballpark where once there had been only railyards.

Rick Prescott
BallparkMagic
Summer 2011