Ballpark draws development interest

Jerry Bell
Minnesota Twins executive Jerry Bell. The team has secured air rights over a county parking lot near the new Twins stadium and expressed interest in the rights to another nearby building.
MPR File Photo/Brandt Williams

In the case of the Twins stadium finance agreement with Hennepin County, the public-private partnership is not an even split. The county is putting up two-thirds of the cost to the team's one-third.

But county officials say part of the public appeal of the stadium is that it will spark additional private development.

We don't know if we'll build anything there. But we'd rather have it than not have it.

The Pohlad family, which owns the Minnesota Twins, are among those looking to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the downtown stadium. Jim Pohlad recently told Minnesota Public Radio that his family is interested in buying the Ford Center, a former factory which now holds artist and office space located near the ballpark site. Pohlad says no offers have been made, but says the team could use some of the building to house administrative offices.

The Twins also have the air rights over a surface parking lot located on the southwest side of the ballpark site.

"We don't know if we'll build anything there. But we'd rather have it than not have it," says Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc. He was the team's lead negotiator with Hennepin County in crafting the stadium finance deal.

Bell and the Twins agreed to contribute more than their initial committment of $130 million after county negotiations with land owners hit an impasse. But how much more the Twins are putting in hasn't been disclosed by the Twins or public officials.

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Under the revised deal, the county will build the surface lot. And the team will pay $20,000 per year in rent for its use and they will pay $10,000 per year for the air rights.

Bell says the air rights are not repayment to the team for its additional contribution. He says the Twins have always wanted surface parking near the stadium.

"There's a lot of parking around there but we don't control any of it," he says. "We thought it would be good idea for our players to park. And we've got to park the vehicles that do the transmission of the TV and all that stuff."

If the Twins build over the lot, their rent will increase but won't exceed $250,000 per year. And the team will share five percent of its gross revenues with the Ballpark Authority.

Part of the appeal of the location for the Twins stadium is its close proximity to where the Northstar Commuter Rail and the Hiawatha light-rail line will eventually meet. That junction will be one feature in a mixed-use development called the North Loop Village. The village will include housing, restaurants and retail shops along a thoroughfare called Dock Street that will extend from the ballpark up to Washington Avenue.

The project is the creation of Houston-based developer, Hines Interests. Local architectural firm Elness, Swenson and Graham is a partner.

"The vision for the North Loop Village, Dock Street, is to provide housing for folks who actually have the option to not own a car," says David Graham, a principal in the architectural firm. "They can get to all of the best destinations the Twin Cities has to offer."

It's an ambitious project that calls for significant changes in some of the infrastructure next to the site, such as modifications to nearby parking garages. So far no cost estimates have been made public.

The North Loop Village proposal has been presented to Minneapolis city officials, like Councilmember Paul Ostrow, who say they're impressed by the plan.

"As is true of so many great plans, the question will be how is it funded?" Ostrow said.

MPR left messages for Hines project manager Bob Pfefferle to ask about funding, but the calls were not returned. However, Pfefferle recently told the Downtown Journal that while the project could go forward without public funding, that tax increment financing -- or TIF -- is an option.

But it's not an option that Ostrow says he's ready to support. With a TIF project the incremental increases in property value are used to pay off the bonds instead of going back to the city. Plus, Ostrow doesn't think this project needs TIF.

"Tax increment financing is to be used where a development woudn't happen but for the use of that tax increment," Ostrow said. "And much of what we're talking about here is not essential for any of these particular developments to happen. Certainly they are enhancements to the entire area."

Ostrow and other elected officials - especially state legislators - have not heard the last pitch for a public-private partnership to help fund a stadium. The Vikings have their eyes set on redeveloping the Metrodome site. And they plan on being at the Capitol in 2008.