Target Field: A hit with the fans, but has it been an economic success?

Infield edging
Jared Alley edges the infield grass as he and other grounds crew members prepare Target Field for the home opener in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, April 5, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

A few days before the Minnesota Twins home opener the grounds crew was already out tending to Target Field's emerald green grass. Crewmen were watering the infield with hoses and sprinklers. One man was gingerly walking behind a gas-powered edger -- cutting a line between the infield grass and the warning track.

Up in the concourses and stands, more workers were busy powerwashing seats and walkways with pressure hoses.

The Twins open their second season at Target Field Friday against the Oakland Athletics. The new ballpark was a hit with fans last season. And season tickets have already sold out for this season.

But it's hard to gauge if big crowds at Target Field make a noticeable improvement to the local economy.

One thing that won't be hard to gauge are the many new additions at Target Field.

A new statue of Twins great Tony Oliva will join the existing trio of Kirby Puckett, Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew.

Right field will feature a scoreboard and 100-foot video tower. The new screens mean more fans will be able to see replays and statistics in high-definition video.

Prepping merchandise
Vinnie Gardner sorts hats at a merchandise booth at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, April 5, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

There will be new food items this year, like the walk-a-taco and an expanded Kramarczuk sausage stand.

The team also put in more than 100 additional radiant heaters throughout the ballpark.

But one of the most important changes happens outside the ballpark. The Northstar commuter-rail line, which stops near Gate 6, will provide service for every home game this season.

"Last year, they didn't have the capacity, apparently, to run every game," said Kevin Smith, a Twins spokesman. "But now this year, they're running every game."

In all, Smith says the Twins spent up to $6 million to improve the fan experience at Target Field.

"What we faced in the off-season is what we call the 'agony of success.' How do we as an organization get better than how we performed for our fans in 2010? Those were discussions that went on throughout the season last year."

Target Field has been a financial success for the Twins. More than 3 million fans -- the most in team history -- attended home games in 2010. The team doesn't disclose revenue data to the public, however, Forbes Magazine estimates that Target Field brought in an additional $70 million to the team.

The first season at Target Field also generated about three times more in tax revenues than the team's last season at the Metrodome. According to a report from the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the owners of Target Field, concession sales and other use taxes generated a total of nearly $19 million last year.

New banner
A new banner is hung at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, April 5, 2011. The Countdown to Cooperstown banner will mark the days until Bert Blyleven enters the Hall of Fame.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

That number doesn't include tax revenue from the bars, restaurants and hotels near the ballpark.

The city of Minneapolis collects a 3 percent entertainment tax from those hospitality businesses and ticket sales. City budget officials credit Target Field with an overall increase in entertainment tax revenues of about $4 million between 2009 and 2010.

But do the numbers add up to a real economic boost for the city?

"There's is vast literature on the impact of sports facilities on economies," said Mike Christenson, the head of Community Planning and Economic Development for Minneapolis. He said the studies show that there's still not much evidence to show that stadiums generate new revenue.

Twins stadium
Grounds crew member Nick Balistrieri waters the infield at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Target Field will feature several new changes from the 2010 season including a new video board in right field, the LED Twins Tower sign and streamlined advertising boards.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"Economic activity shifts within a metropolitan area," he said. "You actually move bar, restaurant and entertainment activity from one part of the metro to another."

However, Christenson says Target Field is responsible for spurring economic development downtown near the ballpark. His department has tallied more than $70 million worth of building permits issued by the city for improvement projects near Target Field over the last two years.

Another $30 million in permits have been requested for work on the Ford Center in 2011. The Ford Center, located across the railroad tracks from the ballpark, is owned by United Properties. That company is owned by the Pohlad family, the owners the Minnesota Twins. Not all the projects are for businesses that directly cater to Twins fans. For instance, in 2009, the city permitted $18 million in improvements to the Shubert/Cowles center on Hennepin Avenue.

Downtown bars and restaurants felt the biggest bump from the new ballpark. But not all of them. Joanne Kaufman of the Warehouse District Business Association says only establishments closest to the ballpark saw more Twins fans come through their doors. And she says businesses still haven't recovered from the recent economic recession.

"While it was great and it certainly added to [business], and we love Target Field, it was not the pancea that was going to save the hospitality business in the warehouse district," Kaufman said.

Of course, the warehouse district will see even more fans this season if the Twins make it through the playoffs and into the World Series.

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