By Jesse Marx
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"Turns out, in '99," he concludes, "when I said it was going to be a really bad deal, I was being optimistic."
For all the differences between Opat, the fast-talking public servant, and Pogin, the calculating businessman, the two do have one thing in common: Each has ambitious stadium plans hanging on the wall of his office. And, they both note, none of the plans they have are anywhere near final. Plans for the ballpark, as it turns out, change almost week to week.
Land acquisition aside, there are certainly other complications for the stadium site, nearly all of them revolving around the size of what nearly everyone considers a very small site for such an ambitious undertaking. Some have wondered whether a ballpark can fit on the site at all.
"The primary attraction of the site is the location of the Warehouse District, the entertainment district, and lots of other stuff," Opat cracks. "The challenge of the site is its location by the Warehouse District, the entertainment district, and lots of other stuff.
"The price of poker here is it's a tight site. If you want it to be a compact urban ballpark, some of the things you're used to now, you're not going to be able to get," continues Opat. "The footprint isn't really the issue. We know we can spend $390 million and have a ballpark on this site. Would it be nice to have more? Yeah, but I'd like more things on my house now too. But more land, and de facto more money, that's not in the public interest."
Neil deMause, co-author of the stadium tome Field of Schemes and curator of a blog with the same name, notes of the Rapid Park site, "What is it, 10 acres or something? When the Red Sox were talking about replacing Fenway Park, their new design was going to be 15 acres. The Twins have their work cut out for them."
Preliminary plans, for instance, project no seats in centerfield or right field, something that makes deMause liken the potential stadium to the old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh or Crosley Field in Cincinnati, relics of a bygone era. "That said, I think that a restricted site can actually be a huge plus for a stadium—look at [San Francisco's] AT&T Park, which is much more compact and less of a shopping mall in part because it was hemmed in by the bay," deMause adds. "If it forces the Twins to do something crazy like cantilever the upper deck over the lower one instead of setting it way back over the concessions concourses, you might actually see a stadium where the cheap seats are worth sitting in."
All of this is conjecture, of course, as the Twins ready their first schematic plans for the stadium, which are scheduled to be released later this month. And although ground hasn't been broken yet, already trouble has surfaced with the site. For starters, it's largely agreed that the stadium will permanently close a part of Third Avenue North to accommodate a public concourse and viewing deck—something that was not envisioned when original stadium hearings were held. In late December, the Star Tribune reported that the extension of the Hiawatha Light Rail line would come up on only one half of North Fifth Street, dumping potentially thousands of commuters and game-goers on a platform that's not much more than 20 feet wide. And on January 29, an environmental impact statement commissioned by the county showed that traffic issues would plague the neighborhood and downtown once games were being played there.
And then there are government entities colliding. The Met Council, for instance, is pushing for infrastructure work now for the Hiawatha, North Star, and Central Corridor rail lines, without apparent regard for the ever-changing stadium plans. The city is going about various planning and zoning issues related to the site, MnDot is looking into potential car-commuter problems, and the county is negotiating with Burlington Northern over how far the railroad will divert tracks that run through the site. In short, the ballpark is supposed to be a development tool that will gentrify and beautify the area north of downtown—if all the pieces can be made to fit, and the schedules of numerous entities coordinated. Ultimately, there have been murmurs around town that no one is truly in charge.
"We're looking at it, we have an interest in it, we convened the [design study] group," Opat says. "I'm a little upset it was said that nobody's in charge, because that's not the case. We're looking at the design and seeking input from all kinds of different sources. We're accommodating rail, I would argue, almost to an uncomfortable point. We're going to spend $90 million on public infrastructure here. We're going to try to have this thing be a jewel."
But in order for that to happen, some think that plans will have to come together in nothing short of a miraculous fashion—something akin to Franco Harris's legendary 1972 "immaculate reception" for the Pittsburgh Steelers, in landowner Pogin's estimation.
Dan Kenney, head of the Ballpark Authority, acknowledges that there are obstacles to completing the project. "But these are good urban planning issues," he says. "What I'm hearing is that there are questions about connection to downtown and livability issues."