The case for renovating Target Center

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March 14, 2011
By: R.T. Rybak and Barbara Johnson
R.T. Rybak and Barbara Johnson
Recently, we helped propose a sensible, practical plan to renovate the city-owned Target Center, a 21-year-old facility that is becoming uncompetitive and is costly to Minneapolis taxpayers. While our top priorities for the city remain unchanged — keeping people safe, growing jobs and our economy and keeping property taxes down — we must also deal with revitalizing a Target Center that faces increasing challenges.

The plan we support is a public-private partnership that will double the life of this important statewide economic asset for just one-third of the cost of replacing it. The renovation will not cost one more dollar of property taxes, and in the long run it will help take pressure off property taxes. We know that times are tough, but the responsible thing to do is to make a strategic investment in Target Center now before we end up having to tear it down and start over — which frankly, we’ve seen too often in Minnesota.

Not everyone realizes that the City of Minneapolis has owned the Target Center since 1994, and because it’s a public asset, we have a responsibility to keep it up. (Selling it isn’t realistic option — there aren’t any buyers out there.) The cost of maintaining, operating and paying down the debt on Target Center currently costs the city around $12 million a year. About two-thirds of that amount has a direct impact on property taxes.

Although the city alone owns and operates Target Center, it benefits everyone in Minnesota. It brings in around one million people a year from all 87 Minnesota counties to nearly 200 events — not only to Timberwolves games, which are actually only 25 percent of all events at Target Center, but everything from Sesame Street and Reba McIntire to high-school tournaments and ultimate fighting — making it the 28th-busiest building in America.

Target Center is also an economic engine, generating more than $100 million a year in economic impact and directly and indirectly supporting 1,700 jobs. Over the last two decades, it has also directly generated $150 million in sales, liquor and income taxes — 80 percent of which have been collected by the State of Minnesota, not the City of Minneapolis, even though the city pays to operate and maintain it.

But at 21 years old, Target Center is now one of the oldest arenas of its kind in the country. This fact, along with other drawbacks, means that it’s increasingly uncompetitive for the kind of sports and entertainment that our area and state deserve, and increasingly financially unviable.

We could wait — Target Center isn’t falling apart, so we could kick the can down the road and let future mayors and City Councils deal with it later. But the longer we wait, the more it will cost to renovate, the more Minneapolis property-tax payers will have to subsidize it, and the more likely it will be that we’ll just have to replace it entirely.

But we’re Minnesotans, and the sensible Minnesota thing to do is to reuse what you already have. That’s what we’re proposing.

The practical plan to renovate Target Center will, at $155 million, cost just one-third of the cost of building an entirely new arena. (Orlando recently built a new arena for a whopping $480 million.) Yes, $155 million is lot of money, but for far less than the cost of a new building, that amount will allow us to take Target Center to the next generation and keep its economic engine running another two decades.

And a more competitive, more profitable Target Center will require less of a subsidy from Minneapolis taxpayers, lessening the pressure on property taxes.

The renovation will be a public-private partnership, with the Timberwolves, Target Center operator AEG, the city and the state all contributing. While we’re in the early stages of defining each partner’s contribution, we know this much: we do not support contributing one more dollar in Minneapolis property taxes.  

The State of Minnesota, however, should be a strong partner: after all, over the last 21 years, the state has been the major beneficiary of the facility, collecting 16 times more in taxes from the Target Center than it has invested. In the same period of time, the City of Minneapolis has continuously invested far more than the state has to keep up this statewide asset.

Keeping people safe, growing our economy and keeping property taxes down are still our highest priorities — but in tough times, we don’t get to pick and choose the issues we have to deal with. It’s sensible and responsible to renovate Target Center now and keep this public asset generating jobs and taxes for another 20 years.

R.T. Rybak is mayor of Minneapolis. Barbara Johnson is president of the Minneapolis City Council.