Remember 2011, when the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Timberwolves floated plans for a $155 million Target Center renovation that was eventually authorized as part of the Vikings stadium legislation?
In October, when the city, team and arena manager AEG finally settled on a plan, the proposed price tag had shrunk to $97 million. But construction costs are rising, not declining. City and team officials downplay the reduction, saying they “sharpened their pencils” to cut a whopping 37 percent. Wish lists were excised and more may still be eliminated, raising the question of how well the improvements will meet the needs of a facility that is acknowledged to be out of date and uncompetitive.
For example, the budget for exterior improvements was cut roughly in half, to $11 million, in part by eliminating a cantilever roof. “It was a huge expense,” says Wolves’ chief marketing officer Ted Johnson.
Plans still call for digital signage on the building’s exterior, shifting the main entrance to the corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue, and adding a large glass atrium, although improvements will now focus on the lower exterior.
“We didn’t necessarily need the gold-plated version,” says Johnson.
The team also trimmed luxury seating. Rather than suites with walls and bathrooms, it may build theater boxes, in certain areas, which are “a lot less infrastructure-intense,” explains Johnson. The latest budget allocates about $14 million to “premium spaces,” including suites, a new upper-level bar and VIP areas.
The budget also allots money for a new scoreboard, general seating and concessions, in-house catering, renovated locker rooms and bathrooms, a revamped lobby, skyway corridors and concourses, among other improvements.
Early plans called for a two-thirds public/one-third private project, but the final deal has the city footing half the bill, with the Wolves covering 44 percent, and AEG 6 percent.
Absent is a $5 million allocation for “public realm amenities”—think lighting, greenery and other investments that would have aesthetically linked Target Center to the surrounding area, says Jeremy Hanson Willis, director of Minneapolis’ community planning and economic development.
As Target Center’s owner, the city’s priority is boosting competitiveness for the other events that fill two-thirds of the arena’s schedule, primarily to improve access for the many vehicles that accompany large traveling events. But it, too, is making concessions by reducing improvements in truck unloading and access. “It won’t be as efficient as it might ideally be,” Hanson Willis says, “but it’s going to be much more efficient than it is today.”
Trips to other pro sports arenas illuminated further opportunities, says Johnson. For example, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning facility demonstrated how using paint, rather than more expensive surface treatments, could reduce expenses.
Architects will use 2011 blueprints as a baseline but largely return to the drawing board, and the renovation, to be completed in phases, should take 18 to 24 months. Some scrapped line-items may later resurface. The city committed at least $50 million for ongoing improvements, and if certain upgrades are deferred, says Johnson, “there’s a fund to address those things.”
To see the project’s latest budget, which was presented to the Minneapolis City Council in late October, view “Attachment A” at bit.ly/1kgih3w.