If you’ve been to one architectural presentation, you’ve been to them all. They typically have flashy graphic design and lots of catch phrases. They for sure have those ‘architectural renderings’ that have those fully-grown green trees and happy looking racially-diverse middle-class fakepeople walking around in family groups. They’re typically filled with carefully thought out pleasant-sounding phrases like “promenade” and “tectonics” and “esplinade” and “façade” and “[insert latest trendy jargon here]”. If architects are good at anything (besides building buildings), its giving a good powerpoint presentation.
Well, I happened to be at a number of these presentations when the stadium was first being pitched to the state and county governments, and I distinctly remember rolling my eyes and tuning out when the stadium architectural firm started talking about the stadium plaza. It would connect the entrance to the street and create community space and blah blah blah snooze. Really, they always say something like that. And, as any fan of William Whyte’s wonderful work will know, most large building’s plazas end up being completely vacant, soul-sucking spaces devoid of life that only look good from a large distance or in an pretty architectural sketch.
Well, I’m happy to eat crow on this one. Because Target Field Plaza is one of the best (newly) designed spaces I’ve ever experienced. Let me tell you why.
The Tale of the Entrancing Entrance
The first time you go to Target Field, I really, really hope you get to enter through Gate 34. It’s the gate that’s oriented towards 1st Avenue North. If you got to the statdium on foot, from the general vicinity of Downtown Minneapolis, this is probably how you got there.
You see, because of the small footprint and inconspicuous siting of Target Field, the stadium is quite hidden. It doesn’t ‘loom’ above anything, really. Instead, it sits low down behind the Target Center on the very periphery of the city, wedged between huge rows of parking lots and a bunch of industrial and freeway-oriented spaces. As a result, you can’t even glimpse it from anywhere downtown. The first time you go there, you won’t even know where it is.
In fact, the first sign that you’re entering the vicinity of the stadium will be, not a giant looming white marshmallow bubble poking up over the nearby parking lots, but a gradual increase in Twins shirts density, first one then two then three scalpers asking for tickets, someone slowly turning up the volume of street life, families getting out of trains, folks crowding bars. But you won’t see the stadium.
Walking down 1st Avenue from the warehouse district area, you’ll eventually a little tiny marker with an arrow on it pointing towards “target field”. And, rather than a huge stadium concourse, you’ll find yourself walking down the sidewalk in between the (looming) Target Center and the historic Butler Square building.
It’s an odd sidewalk that gradually slopes upward toward a skyway that runs between the two giant parking lots. It funnels people a bit narrowly into this strange space, past a hideously ugly Joe Mauer statue, around the corner of the newly-relocated Hubert’s Bar, and over the 2nd Avenue North streetcorner.All this while, the excitement level builds. Your sense of anticipation starts to jump all over the place as the crowd becomes ever-so-slightly denser and more excited. You can feel that the stadium is nearby, you can hear the sounds of many voices, but, still you can’t see it.
[You ask, into what sort of post-industrial wasteland have I wandered?]
Finally, you end up going past a bronze statue of Harmon Killebrew hitting a home run and pointing his bat at a skyscraper, and proceed underneath a low skyway bridge between the two massive parking lots and then - WHAM!- the full impact of Target Field hits you.
All at once, you’re in the middle of a large open space filled with baseball. In front of you are the stadium lights and the sight of thousands of fans in the seats that arc behind home plate. All around you are stadium barkers calling out, selling peanuts and cracker jacks and everything else. You’re in Target Plaza, and the place is filled with excitement. Its almost as if the main gate (where they take all your money) doesn’t exist. It’s almost (almost, but definitely not) as if the sidewalk leads right into the seats, as if the stadium is a seamless part of the city, as if the field’s green grass is just another city park and the concourse is another block of Minneapolis sidewalk.
[The pre-game hurly-burly hurdy-gurdy hustle-bustle hullaballo.]
[The field beckons like a sidewalk siren.]
What I’m trying to describe is the elegant way that the space in Target Plaza connects the stadium to the streets of Minneapolis. The low bleachers in Right Field open up right into the street, bringing a little bit of the city right into the stadium. During games, I’ve seen folks without tickets hang out near the metal fence for innings, just to be part of the action. You can’t see any of the field of play from there, but you do get a sense of the camaraderie that makes baseball so good at building community.
And after the game, the process seems to work pretty smoothly in reverse. People flow out of the stadium. Even if there are concerns about whether or not the space is truly ‘public’*, Target Plaza is a wonderful addition to the interface between the new Target Field. The way the plaza connects the 1st Avenue sidewalk and the stadium is an architectural masterpiece. Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.
[A pleasant green buffer between the parking lots points toward the city, and provides a nice place for sittin'.]
[The Plaza opens up space in what was previously the creepy crappy land behind the Target Center.]
[There are benches and waste bins.]
[This long, low skyway connecting the two parking lots predates the stadium, but provides an excellent 'contrast point' demarcating where baseball excitement truly begins and ends.]
[Even when the Twins are out of town, people can hang out on the Target Plaza.]
PS. This is it, by the way. The end of the road. I'm not writing anything more about this stupid stadium.
PPS. It's not stupid. I like it.
*This is surely something that we need to keep our eyes on. It should be a public space, with all the freedom of speech that entails.