With outdoor major league baseball returning to Minnesota today, expectations for the Twins are high. So are hopes for a new economic boost around Target Field.
Members of the local business community hope the ballpark will help energize downtown economically in a way that the Metrodome never really did.
BUSINESSES GEAR UP FOR TRAFFIC INFLUX
Target Field sits snugly in the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis. The area is home to dozens of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other entertainment venues. The new stadium seats nearly 40,000 people and it will likely sellout for each of the Twins' 81 home games. Which means a lot of people will be coming to this part of town during the baseball season.
"We expect about 2.5 million fans to come down to this ballpark," said Mike Christenson, the head of the city's Community Planning and Economic Development department. "We want them to come down here and stay and walk the city."
Christenson believes the influx of fans will be a big boost for businesses like the new Hubert's, which is taking over the NBA City restaurant space in Target Center.
Architect David Shea said the key is to expose pedestrian traffic to nearby businesses.
"You need to put people closer to the businesses," Shea said. "If the businesses are hiding behind glass walls all the time, it is the wrong approach for something."
Christenson said other businesses are rushing to make improvements in time for the new baseball season. He said the city has seen an increase in the number of construction permit requests.
"Whether you are redeveloping the interior or exterior of a building you have to pull a permit," said Christenson. "So last month, February of this year, we saw permits go over $30 million for the first time in some time in the city. So we are seeing a recovery."
Christenson added that many of the permits are being pulled for businesses in the warehouse district, like Kieran's Irish Pub. The pub recently moved into a large vacancy in the Block E entertainment complex. Despite Block E's proximity to the Target Center and now Target Field, it has struggled to keep some major tenants.
BLOCK E RENEWAL
Overly large spaces and lack of street access are a challenge for marketing Block E vacancies, said Andrea Christenson, with commercial real estate broker Cassidy Turley.
"When the smoking laws changed it made it very difficult to lease those second floor spaces to any bars and restaurants because of people needing to get outside and smoke," Christenson said.
Christenson added that the opening of Target field has brought some new interest to Block E and she said there will be news of openings in other nearby buildings in the weeks and months to come.
FINANCING STILL DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN
But there are still other parts of the warehouse district which remain undeveloped. Christenson said banks are still reluctant to finance new ventures. For instance, she said a plan to develop a 26-acre parcel near the ballpark called North Loop Village has been put on hold.
"In any project of that size, anywhere in the country right now, unless you can self-finance, any bank, any lending organization is going to expect you to have an anchor tenant going into it," she said.
There is also a noticeable vacancy in the building which used to contain the New French Cafe and the Urban Wildlife Bar. The property, which sits within site of Target Field, still contains a few open businesses, but the spaces which used to hold the bar and cafe are full of dust and debris. Christenson said as far as she knows, there are no plans to renovate the spaces in the near future.
The new ballpark has already bolstered the residential real estate market. That's the assessment of Fritz Kroll, a real estate agent who also lives in the warehouse district. He said the ballpark has led a lot of people to move in - even people who don't like baseball.
"Because I think it's by far the most visible development in the neighborhood," he said. "Having the transit center next to it is just one of the things to really force people to look at this neighborhood."
Kroll said demand for condominiums and rental housing in the area is increasing, but the supply is shrinking, because no new housing construction projects are scheduled to start this year.
And Kroll said the demand combined with reduced supply is having an impact on prices even though real estate values have fallen nationwide and in Minneapolis.
"The ballpark is helping just maintain the values," Kroll said. "And as the supply is absorbed, I think that's when we'll start to see some real appreciation again."
One development will accompany the opening of Target Field that Kroll and other neighbors are a bit apprehensive about -- game day traffic congestion. But Kroll said he and his neighbors will have to wait and see if some of the city plans to alleviate gameday gridlock will work.
Local business owners hope fans will avoid traffic jams by coming to the ballpark early and staying late - of course while having drinks and food somewhere in the neighborhood.