Wolves work to renovate Target Center
MINNEAPOLIS -- The city of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Timberwolves have jumped into a growing line of parties seeking public help to resolve their stadium situations in the Twin Cities.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and City Council President Barbara Johnson announced a proposal on Tuesday that seeks $155 million to renovate the aging Target Center.
It calls for a complete remodel of the 21-year-old building. It would shift the main entrance in downtown Minneapolis to the corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue, add two large glass atriums and another restaurant that overlooks Target Plaza. It would also completely remodel the inside to make the building more attractive to traveling concerts and shows.
"I want to compete for every big event that takes place across the country," Rybak said. "The viability of our bids will depend on our ability to be competitive with other arenas. ... The market is moving very quickly past us."
The city of Minneapolis owns the building, which is operated by AEG. So they're billing this project as one that not only benefits the Timberwolves for 41 home dates a year, but the downtown area as well on the more than 160 other dates a year that the arena hosts concerts, shows and other events.
Just like the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, the minor league St. Paul Saints and the NHL's Minnesota Wild, the Target Center is seeking a public-private partnership to pay for the project. No specific proposals have been announced just yet, but Rybak did say the city has no money in property tax revenue to devote to the project.
Taylor said he did plan to contribute some of his own money as well, and the Timberwolves could look to join with the Vikings, Saints and Wild on one big stadium bill.
The Wolves have been working with the city for about 10 years on the plans, and it could be a very tough sell. Their struggles on the court over the last five to six seasons have eroded fan interest in the team.
"It would be irresponsible for us to do nothing and let the building continue to deteriorate so that a few years from now somebody else is standing up here and asking for far more money in what may be just as difficult of times," said Rybak, who acknowledged the financial difficulties facing the Legislature.
The Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat all came into the league at the same time as the Timberwolves and all three teams are playing in their second building. Taylor said he obviously would prefer a new arena, but the former state senator knows that is unrealistic when the state is facing a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit over the next two years.
"I just think it's prudent as a businessman, as the owner of the Timberwolves, as a taxpayer, that we try to take advantage of the building that we already built," Taylor said.
The owner said he is getting pressure from other NBA owners about increasing the struggling franchise's revenue, especially as they consider instituting a revenue sharing program in the next collective bargaining agreement.
"That's how the conversations are going when I'm out there [in New York]," Taylor said. "We just have to bring in more revenue off this building."
But the plan differs from the Vikings in several aspects. It's more affordable than the estimated $800-900 million Vikings stadium.
The Wolves also account for only about 25 percent of the events in the arena on a yearly basis and do not receive any money from other events held there. They have a local partner in the city of Minneapolis and the backing of the Downtown Council and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"The Timberwolves and Target Center are important to this community and to our state, and we want to see them thrive," Vikings vice president of stadium affairs Lester Bagley said. "But other than that, we're focused on moving our discussion forward and resolving the Vikings stadium issue this legislative session."
This renovation would make the NBA's fourth-oldest building viable for another 20 years, officials said. It would add more revenue-producing club suites and change the "upside-down" configuration of the arena.
When Target Center opened in 1990, it was the last arena built with more seats on the upper level than the lower level. That configuration has become a deterrent for concert promoters who can sell lower level tickets at a higher price.
The renovation also includes a remodel of the home and visitor locker rooms, which are among the smallest in the NBA.
The renovation will also refurbish the concession areas, add a food court and a club overlooking the arena and modernize the exterior with soaring glass atriums at the main entrance and on the back side of Target Center that overlooks Target Field.
"You've got to at some point do the things that the clients are asking you to do, whether that's the ticket buyers, the suite holders or the shows that are wanting to come to the building," said Steve Mattson, Target Center's general manager. "Our goal is that these renovations will address those issues with expanded guest amenities, we'll expand amenities from the show perspective, too."
Of the 60 arenas that are home to NBA or NHL franchises across the country, Target Center is the sixth-oldest. It also competes locally with the Twins' new Target Field, the University of Minnesota's new football stadium and the Wild's Xcel Energy Center for the fan's discretionary dollar.
"Our fans have told us that their expectations of us as the NBA team is they want an environment that's competitive with what's out there across the country," Taylor said.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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