Why not use a successful model for the new Twins stadium? July 17, 2006
I love baseball. I'm a huge baseball fan. In fact, a couple years ago my two younger brothers and I went on a tour of baseball stadiums in the Eastern U.S. In two weeks we saw 10 stadiums ranging from the historic (Yankee Stadium) to the brand-new (PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Comerica Park in Detroit). Last summer my girlfriend had a family reunion in Northern California and she and I added time to our trip so that we could attend games at both Bay Area stadiums. And I grew up in Colorado and saw the Rockies come to town and the building of Coors Field.
All of these gives me a little bit of insight, I think, into what makes a good stadium project. And all of my prior knowledge leads me to believe that the Twins are going about this thing all wrong. It's not just the money thing. Though I don't think Mr. Pohlad needs to be crying poor, I understand that bringing a stadium into a particular area injects a dose of economic benefit to that area. I won't get a check in the mail, but what's good for the area is eventually good for me. Besides that, many corporations receive subsidies from state and local governments to build new facilities; not nearly as much is made of that.
But here are what I believe to be some indisputable truths about the construction of a stadium that the powers that be in Minneapolis have failed to address thus far:
1. A baseball stadium that exists in a place with a climate like this should have a retractable roof. There is no doubt. I've been to games in April in Chicago and it's not pretty. Besides the attendance aspect, consider the way cold temperatures affect the players. It's much more difficult to grip the ball or swing the bat when it's freezing, and this affects the way the team starts the first month of the season (and the last, assuming they put together a playoff-caliber team). Miller Park in Milwaukee is the perfect example of a gorgeous stadium that doesn't feel like death (the Metrodome). The grass is natural, the sun comes streaming through the windows, and the weather is always perfect for baseball.
2. The consistently successful model for a stadium and its surrounding area is to build in an older, less developed area. This has been successful in Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Phoenix, and more. The idea is that the ballpark is the draw and the ballpark neighborhood becomes a part of that experience. The Warehouse District is already a crowded place with established businesses. Why build the stadium there? Why not develop another area full of old buildings that could create thousands of jobs and bring in millions in revenue? The perfect site already exists; just across the Mississippi River from downtown, just across the Stone Arch Bridge. I know the area's been earmarked for a large condo development; integrate the condos into the neighborhood. St. Anthony Main could explode--it's the perfect example of an area that could be an incredible draw for the city but just isn't. Picture thousands of people milling up and down that cobblestone street before the game--grabbing a drink, getting a bite to eat. People could park on the downtown side of the river and wander across the Stone Arch Bridge to a game, which leads me to...
3. Many beautiful stadiums integrate local bodies of water into their plan, or at least make them part of the view. We have one of the longest rivers in the world right in our backyard, yet many people don't even really know it's there. It's just not part of the city. Think of the Chicago River, or the Allegheny in Pittsburgh, the Ohio in Cincinnati, McCovey Cove in San Francisco. For the last three, those bodies of water are part of what define the ballpark and the ballpark experience. That could be done here, though right now the plan is to build on the banks of rivers of concrete.
It's not too late to fix any of these things; the land for the proposed site hasn't even been purchased yet (which I'm sure guarantees the city the best possible deal on that property). There's a reason people are willing to subsidize businesses this way; it would just be nice to see the best possible return on our investment.