On a cold Wednesday in April of last year, the Minnesota Twins lost an otherwise forgettable game to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Target Field. But elsewhere the Pohlad family, the team’s owners, and their development company were doing much better.
The team and United Properties on that day signed a series of complex agreements for Target Field Station, a project next to Target Field that is part transit station, part parking ramp and part public gathering space. It gave the Pohlads naming rights, access to hundreds of parking spaces and even the ability to erect a large video board — all on public property.
It was another sign that, in the five years since the publicly subsidized Target Field opened, the Pohlads have been doing at least as well outside the stadium as their team has been doing in it.
Though United Properties seemed slow to realize the ballpark’s ability to launch nearby development, the company has since made up for lost time. United Properties has bought the adjoining Ford Center office building, inserted the Pohlad-owned radio station into it and lured the bone-marrow transplant nonprofit Be the Match into a new building going up across the street. It also announced plans for a tall office building next to Target Field Station and has joined in an attempt to build a soccer stadium just down the street.
The team also has an option to develop a 3.2-acre land parcel across from Target Field. Under a series of agreements with the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the public entity that owns the ballpark and the parcel, the option extends until 2025 but the Twins have not made rent or option payments on the property because of other contributions the team has made.
“They were not active in this area — not at all,” said Kit Richardson, a principal at Schafer Richardson, another commercial development company that has been active near Target Field. “I’m guessing it was the ballpark” that changed things.
Schafer Richardson originally owned the 11-story Ford Center, and Richardson said the Twins initially wanted to lease offices in the building as Target Field was being built. “At some point, they just said, ‘No, we’d like to just buy the building,’ ” said Richardson. The market value of the Ford Center has risen to $28 million since construction started on the baseball stadium.
United Properties was largely a suburban developer when Target Field was being built, and United Properties President Frank Dutke said it was Jim Pohlad — the Twins’ chief executive and United Properties’ board chairman — who instructed the company to buy the Ford Center.
“I thought it was a cool building,” said Pohlad.
But Pohlad said he never pushed for United Properties to more aggressively develop near Target Field, and left that decision to others. “I’m not that savvy,” he said. “There’s never a point where I start doing that, just like I don’t sit around and [say] it’s time to bring [Twins rookie] Miguel Sano up to the major leagues.”
But soon, said Dutke, United Properties did become more active near Target Field. David St. Peter, the Twins president, said Hennepin County even asked the team to send Jerry Bell, the team’s stadium negotiator, to the Legislature to help obtain state money for the Target Field Station project.
The interests of the Twins and United Properties at times have seemed joined. St. Peter, who is in charge of operating the baseball team, took a lead in negotiations with Hennepin County regarding Target Field Station. The project, said St. Peter, “brought me [in] a little deeper than normally I would be.”
“We obviously have a sister company. [It’s] only natural that we work together,” said St. Peter, who said the arrangement did not give United Properties a competitive advantage in developing Target Field Station.
The team and United Properties have increasingly blended their varying interests, including the Pohlads’ attempt to help bring a Major League Soccer team to Minnesota. When the U.S. won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in early July, the final game was shown on the Twins’ jumbo screen at Target Field Station. The Pohlads’ radio station, 96.3 KTWN-FM, featured a picture of the event on its website, saying “hundreds of soccer fans” attended and “the plaza [was] packed with devotees.”
More than $81 million in public money went into the Target Field Station project, with more than $30 million coming from Hennepin County, which had already spent $350 million to help build Target Field.
Debra Brisk, an assistant county administrator, said the Pohlads were not given anything out of the ordinary. “I don’t think this is anything abnormal,” Brisk said of the county’s relationship with the Pohlads. “They enjoy sitting with us and knowing where we’re heading, just as much as we enjoy hearing where they’re heading.”
That view is shared by Dan Kenney, a former county official and now executive director of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority. Kenney said that, with the right amount of public infrastructure improvements at Target Field, he was optimistic development would follow and “confident that United Properties would be involved.”
While Target Field Station was widely praised as a forward-thinking mass transit hub for the public, it was also good for the Twins and United Properties.
Though the county owns a 289-vehicle underground parking ramp at the site, the team and United Properties have a “stall rights” option to lease most of them and get a “slight discount” if they enter into a long-term lease. United Properties, at one point, paid an additional $240,000 to have the county make the parking ramp bigger.
County officials said United Properties also paid for permission to have a large “Target Field Station” sign anchored to the county’s Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, a large county-owned waste-to-energy plant next to the transit project.
The project in addition gave United Properties the development rights to a small adjacent parcel, with the company paying the county $1.5 million upfront plus $15 per square foot if a new building exceeded 100,000 square feet. In November, the company announced plans for a 10-story building on the site.
Though others submitted proposals for Target Field Station, United Properties and the county seemed destined to work together on the project.
Don Keefe of Keefe Co. Parking, a Twin Cities parking ramp management company, said he expressed interest in the project but quickly realized it was too complex for him. “I’m not surprised United went in,” he said. “I’m a small-business guy.”
While Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson complained that the project became bloated, Peter McLaughlin, the longtime county commissioner who specializes in transit issues, said it was a success because it lured other developers to build tax-generating projects nearby.
But McLaughlin said he was surprised that only United Properties submitted a bid that shared the county’s more elaborate vision for Target Field Station. “I think that the Pohlad family had made a significant investment in this corner” of the city, and wanted to do more, he said.
Target Field Station is helping United Properties indirectly in other ways. When Be the Match, the organ transplant nonprofit, wanted a more visible location, it chose United Properties as its developer and a site a half-block from Target Field. The company wanted a location “that young people would find attractive,” Michael Boo, the nonprofit’s chief strategy officer, said of the 1,000 employees who will move into the building in November.
Be the Match had its own ties to the team. Twins Hall of Famer Rod Carew became an early spokesman for the nonprofit, and Boo said he hoped Be the Match would work with the baseball team “into the future.”
Grady Hamilton of Trammell Crow, another large developer that just finished a project near Target Field, said his company never felt that United Properties had a competitive advantage in the area. He said Trammell Crow did not compete to develop Target Field Station because “it felt to us [that] was very likely a better fit for” United Properties.
When the Twins hosted baseball’s All-Star Game last summer, Trammell Crow was finishing Junction Flats, a 182-unit apartment complex near the ballpark. Hamilton, a principal with the company, confirmed that Trammell Crow recently sold Junction Flats for $49 million — just five years after the site had a market value of $835,000.
Hamilton said he was always “enthusiastic” about Trammell Crow’s ability to develop near Target Field. “We never felt shut [out],” he said.
Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388