Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Joe Mauer Saves Urbanity in Minnesota

Dateline: 10:47 pm April 5, 2010 Filed under:

We can thank Joe Mauer, the all-star, golden glove, batting champion catcher for the 2009 Central Division champion Minnesota Twins for saving urbanity in Minnesota. Allow me to explain.

Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins, is an urban ballpark built right in to the fabric of the city. Joe Mauer, born and raised right here in St. Paul, is a true hometown favorite who just signed a long-term contract. Sure, there are other great players on the Twins, but Joe Mauer is the reason Minnesotans, be they, from city, suburb or outstate, come to Target Field. And Target Field is an urban masterpiece.

Whereas HOK Sport (now Populous), designer of a number of major league stadia over the years, typically has 12 to 17 acres with which to work, they managed to wedge Target Field on to a site measuring just 8 acres. Not only wedged, the stadium is built between two roadways and two parking ramps, one light rail line, a garbage incinerator, and above a freeway, freight rail tracks and commuter rail station. Plus, a bicycle trail ends a block away.

The original Twins stadium Metropolitan Stadium, was built in suburban Bloomington in the 1950s, and was surrounded by one big parking lot (today that site is occupied by the Mall of America – you can still find home plate if you look). Fans could tailgate in classic fashion and head in to the game. The Metrodome was built downtown, but to this day is still surrounded by surface parking lots in a fairly uninviting urban landscape. Target Field does much better.

Although as built it feels wedged in to the city, Target Field was actually in a bit of a no-man’s land between downtown, the Warehouse District (an entertainment district), the North Loop (an emerging residential area) and a transitioning industrial area that includes the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (the garbage burner). Oh, and above Interstate 394 and a freight rail tracks. It was a lot of nowhere and infrastructure to overcome.

But the design takes lemons and makes lemonade. The site wasn’t meant for much else. Three huge parking structures were built in the 1980s. One is a block away, one across the street and the third literally behind the right field bleachers. Fans can take advantage of thousands of nearby parking spaces as a result. And the energy recovery center provides heat for the field and common areas.

Fans can also ride the train. A new station was added to the light rail line that originally opened in 2004. Northstar commuter rail service from the northwest suburbs began in November 2009 and terminates at Target Field (it will serve 53 of the 81 home games). The two lines share an intermodal station that is built in to the left field corner of the stadium.

To get from the heart of downtown to Target Field is via 6th Street. Whereas previously one would have to cross Interstate 394, Target corporation donated millions to construct Target Plaza, an elevated public space that provides a seamless transition between 1st Avenue and Gate 34 of the stadium.

Add to that the sublime views of the skyline, particularly from the 3rd base line, and you are reminded that Target Field is a different experience than our previous ballparks. Rather than being in the city, Target Field is part of the city. To visit the park, most fans have to navigate a portion of the city, either on foot or rail. And if they don’t, they are constantly reminded of it, and left to gaze at the skyline and ponder how the city works between innings or bites of stadium food on a stick.

And so we have Joe Mauer to thank for bringing urbanity to the forefront of Minnesotans. We actually have a dedicated group of area residents, business owners, building owners, planners, designers, elected officials, Target corporation and the Minnesota Twins to thank for creating a great ballpark and a great urban environment. But Joe Mauer brings out the fans.

By the way – the stadium itself is wonderful as well, and I’m proud to say I took my son Ellis to the first Twins home game last Friday.

View images of Target Field and its urban environs here.

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