Every city needs some big thinkers. Imaginers. Dreamers.
Without such people, cities would be very bland places -- and maybe couldn't even exist at all. Where would Minneapolis be if no one had ever imagined the impossible task of taming the Falls of St. Anthony to saw logs and grind wheat into flour? Keep in mind that those falls, which are still formidable today even shielded by a concrete apron, were completely wild when the first mills were built. Somebody had to wade out into that current and dig. More importantly, somebody had to have the idea first.
The circulation ramp on Fifth Street is shaping up very quickly.
Think back a couple of decades to the Ghermezians. You remember those guys, right? They had this totally wacky idea to build the world's largest mall over the grave of Met Stadium. Everybody thought they were crazy, or con artists, or some combination. (It's now the largest tourist draw in the state.)
Big thinking always sounds crazy at first.
When the story of the Twins ballpark is written (by me, for release in time for Christmas of 2010!), there is one person who will get full credit for being the first to look at a rather homely surface parking lot and imagine a classic urban ballpark.
Bruce Lambrecht did just that in 1999, and then spent eight years trying to convince anyone who would listen that this wasn't just a good idea, it was a great one. Sure, he had a financial stake in the outcome, but that does not detract from the imagination it took to see baseball in the railroad cut between downtown and the northern neighborhoods.
Bruce Lambrecht on the roof of the Minikahda building.
Long ago, Bruce extended an invitation for me to come down and take some photos of the ballpark construction from the roof of the Minikahda building, which sits adjacent to the site across North Fifth Street. Earlier this week I finally got to take him up on his offer.
What I expected would be just a few minutes of introductions and picture-taking, was instead a fascinating conversation covering much of the long history of the idea for the ballpark, complete with some heretofore unknown details of the land sale negotiations.
(I'm not going to drag that subject up again, but I will admit that I heard some things which, had I known them at the time, would have changed my tune substantially. Considering the fact that I was rough on Bruce and his investor group during the height of that episode, he was a most gracious and generous host. Victoria and I had a great time.)
Bruce was willing to take credit only for the initial idea and the energy behind getting it out. He was quite eager to give credit to all kinds of other people for helping it become reality: architects, financial and real estate types, and even media people -- most working for nothing. He credits a long list of sometimes reluctant collaborators with adding bits and pieces to the idea, looking for and squashing potentially fatal flaws, and getting the idea to the people who could make it a reality. He also credits Shane over at The Greet Machine with providing the key piece, without which the whole thing could not have gone forward: the legislative voting record.
We stood in the sun on that roof for about an hour (you can even see us on the web cam!), chatting not just about the past, but about the future of the neighborhood. The Minikahda building, for example, could be extended upward quite a long way as residential space. Though the current real estate market is rather cold, as soon as the warming starts, Bruce expects to see lots of activity on those surface lots between the park and Washington Avenue. Hines, the real estate company, owns options on a lot of the land and buildings around there. They fully intend to make the most of the space, though the timing will have to depend on the market.
Victoria asked Bruce point-blank why he did the whole thing. Was it just a real estate deal? He didn't shy away from the financial aspects, but he started talking about Harmon Killebrew and the classic Twins teams of the 1960s. He talked about the road trips that he took with his family to see all the major league parks as research. He talked about phoning up Philip Bess (author of City Baseball Magic, the blueprint rejected by the White Sox when they built New Comiskey) for advice and support (alas, not forthcoming: "Buy my book."). He talked about bothering Earl Santee at HOK (who is now the lead architect on the project) until he would send somebody up to at least take a look at the site. That's how the ball really got rolling.
Another piece of the neighborhood puzzle: the Northstar platform.
A lot of people had to get on this bandwagon before the project could happen, but there's no question that Bruce was driving that wagon right up until the deal was done in St. Paul. That certainly qualifies as Big Thinking.
If he feels any bitterness toward the team or Hennepin County for how everything played out, it was not evident. He seemed just as excited about outdoor baseball as the rest of us. And he seemed similarly excited about the prospect of creating Minneapolis' "88th neighborhood" in that previously overlooked strip of land.
He does lament the fact that once the park is complete, all he will see from his rooftop is the back of the scoreboard. (He doesn't think that was an intentional slight.) Still, it sounds like he's planning a big rooftop party on opening day just the same. And who knows? Maybe one day there will be a few more floors on that building which will allow for a better view.
As we were leaving, he expressed his support for this web site, and made arrangements for me to get more pictures from his roof at a later date. I thanked him, not just for his time on that beautiful, sunny afternoon rooftop, but for hatching the idea and helping it happen.
The splendid view from the roof of the Minikahda building. (Click to enlarge greatly.)
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This page was last modified on January 21, 2010.
"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."
– Bernie Williams
Explore the Site
Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3033 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
Here we are waiting for the first train to arrive at the station (Nov 14).
This was on BPM night. Nice neon, but I'm still waiting to see the homer show.
That's Fifth Street (and a tattooed arm) in the foreground.
Here's the view as you step to the front of the outer moat beyond first base.
Fifth Street louvers way up close
Two train stations
Dan Mehls, Mortenson Construction
Dramatic night-time lighting.
The HERC promenade side.
Reverse view, now looking down Sixth toward the park. The Met Stadium flag pole will be right there!
This view looks up Fifth Street toward downtown and shows how the LRT tracks sort of snuggle up to the ballpark.
Yep, that's real grass down there, son.
Yes, son, Memorial Stadium used to be right there, just beyond those gates.
Section 125, Row 1
Supports viewed from beneath. These seats will be just a few feet from the outside edge of the building!
Preparations underway (Field View)
The Puckett atrium fireplace is just barely visible at the far left.
Mary Larson (left), a music teacher from Maple Grove, was a TwinsFest SSB winner and got to sing the anthem before the game.
Click to enlarge.
Nine spots for hops bats.
This is some of the signage in place for concession stands.
Better them than me
One half of those windows are well-used.
People! (In the Legends Club)
Looking up Fifth, with LRT tracks and B ramp at left