During the long debate over the funding and construction of Target Field, one of the most common and most compelling criticisms was that it made no sense to place a $350 million baseball stadium directly next to the HERC plant, the county’s huge industrial facility solely devoted to generating electricity by burning foul-smelling garbage.
Indeed, Target Field sits at a vortex of different parts of downtown Minneapolis. It borders the night club-centric 1st Avenue/Warehouse district area on the East, touches the residential / riverfront North Loop on the North, and, on the South and West sides, rubs up against the city’s neglected and overlooked LULU zone.
[An angle of Target Field you'll never see in the brochure, emphasizing its proximity to the elevated 394 freeway and the Hennepin County garbage burner.]
LULUs is urban planning lingo* for Locally Unwanted Land Uses, which includes homeless shelters, halfway houses, garbage burners, and other loud light industrial businesses like metal smashing and car crushing and whatever else comes with ultra low property values. LULUs are the logical consequences of NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard), as every time property value laden homeowners get outraged over some zoning change, cities tend to place unwanted or politically difficult projects in places that already have politically difficult projects. So, the end result is that all the homeless shelters in the city tend to get clustered together, and placed next to the garbage burner and the bus depot. And so Target Field is next to the garbage burners and the homeless shelters and a bunch of other ‘interesting’ places in ‘near North’ Minneapolis that you’ve probably never been to or heard of.
[You can still see what the stadium site used to look like on Google Maps. The field lies within a section of town cut off by 3 or 4 freeways, train tracks, and other impenetrable infrastructural barriers.]
As a result, the stadium’s design performs a delicate land use dance, opening itself up to the neighborhoods on the South and East, and shielding itself off from areas to the North and West. In fact, compared to any other contemporary stadium, Target Field’s site is incredibly compact. (I’ve heard a little as 8 acres, so this seems ridiculously small to me.) It was built on a site that was once a surface parking lot, just on the on the non-downtown side of the mid-90s I-394 & parking lot project. The (misguided) 394 project erected an elevated 8-lane freeway leading directly from downtown to the wealthy Western suburbs, which placed a huge barrier between the now-gentrifying North Loop area from the LULU zone. And, on the South Side, placed a giant complex of city-owned five-story parking garages that essentially formed a fortified wall between the downtown office buildings and the LULU zone. Target Field is on the ‘wrong’ side of both of these large barriers, but manages to bring people over the divides in very elegant ways.
And, through a few design tricks, the stadium does this without really seeming to. Most of the fans are encouraged to enter via entrances that link up to the light rail stop or the 1st Avenue / Warehouse district area. Particularly with its connection to East, the stadium uses an elevated sidewalk and plaza to make this transition fairly seamless, so that you don’t really notice that you’re next to a freeway or going through an area surrounded by large parking garages. Fans can enter without really even seeing or noticing the extensive freeway and parking infrastructure.
[An elevated sidewalk and plaza, and a clever "Chino Latino" mask for the pre-existing parking lot, is one way that Target Field manages to disguise its infrastructural surroundings.]
At the same time, the stadium places a scrim wall all along its Northwest-facing ‘backside’, ostensibly featuring the history of Minnesota Twins greats (including my favorite, Ron Davis), but actually preventing people from seeing the industrial land uses directly adjacent to the stadium. Only with close careful inspection and no little amount of peering can you tell that there are power transformers, homeless shelters, scrapyards, and a HUGE garbage burner directly next to the stadium.
[The scrim on the Northwest side of the stadium, shielding baseball fan's eyes from the unsightly smokestacks and homeless shelters of the city's LULU zone.]
In this way, the stadium connects a little section of real estate that was previously unconnected to the downtown street life, including a number of wonderful (and large) historic buildings, like the huge 10 story warehouse across 5th Avenue from the stadium. When the stadium was built, there was (and still is) a lot of concern about how the ballpark land use would fit with the industrial and social service land uses nearby. For example, how will homeless people be treated if they hang out in the ‘public’ plaza in front of the stadium? Will the huge county investment in the garbage burner next door to the stadium be limited by the fan’s or the team’s intolerance of any unusual odors? Will industrial businesses near the stadium, like Shapco or Northern Auto Parts be able to stand the disruption of baseball games 82 times a year, or will they flee to the suburbs and take their increasingly endangered urban industrial jobs with them?
At any rate, when compared to a sparsely-settled site out in the suburbs, or a depopulated site surrounded by surface parking lots (like the old Metrodome), the site of Target Field is a very interesting place, surrounded by a diverse set of land uses. The stadium does a very interesting architectural dance, managing to draw people in from the active areas of downtown across some majorly disruptive infrastructural barriers, while keeping people and stadium street life away from the industrial areas of the city. For fans of the both the Twins and the city of Minneapolis, seeing how this area changes during the next few years will be very interesting.
* 94% of urban planning lingo consists of the Construction and UTilization of Acronymns (CUTA).
[Even on an off day, you can find Twins fans walking next to the previously remote Shapco manufacturing company and historic warehouse building.]