Developers of Minneapolis' chosen stadium site say they won't wait for a ballpark and will market the whole Warehouse District parcel for housing.
By Sarah McKenzie
The owners of the Rapid Park lots in the Warehouse District - the city's and county's chosen location for a Minneapolis ballpark - say they will focus on housing for the entire site.
Richard Pogin, chief financial officer of Investment Management, Inc., which owns the lots north of the Target Center, said likely legislative inaction means his company is moving on.
"Right now our assessment of the ballpark plan is that it's very unlikely anything will happen until after the  gubernatorial election," Pogin said. "You can always have a Hail Mary at the end of the [legislative] session. If history is any judge, I don't think that the current political configuration is going to move that ball forward."
Therefore, Investment Management is now talking to national residential developers and a local developer about a large-scale housing development on the entire site, Pogin said. He declined to name the developers.
"We hope to be full speed under way in the next six months at the latest," he said.
The development would be massive - about 2,000 housing units built over a five- to eight-year period, Pogin said. He estimated the project would cost anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion.
It would include a combination of senior housing, rental units and condos. The condos would likely be priced below $300,000 - the lower end of the Downtown housing market.
"I see this more as workforce housing," Pogin said.
The roughly 24-acre area identified for the housing development stretches between North 7th Street and Washington Avenue North and between 5th and 3rd avenues north. Investment Management owns more than 10 acres of below-grade, surface parking lots there. Two other partnerships own another 8 acres and the city and county own 6 acres, Pogin said.
Last year, Investment Management agreed to sell the Rapid Park site to an unspecified local government for $12.95 million - if the land were chosen for a ballpark.
No sale means no deal. And no deal would come as a blow to Minneapolis leaders who've loudly touted the Rapid Park site as superior to St. Paul's proposed location. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the area has the "single best transit access" in the Twin Cities, citing its proximity to freeways, the bus terminal, bike trails and rail lines.
Rybak is not ready to give up his Rapid Park hopes.
"I've followed this long enough to know there's no absolutes in the ballpark game, but with challenges to schools, police, transportation and budgets, there are some critical issues ahead of it. But I'll repeat, if a ballpark gets built, it should be on this site where all the infrastructure is in place. That's a bonus for this great piece of property," he said.
He considers the site ripe for redevelopment even if a Twins stadium goes elsewhere.
"If a ballpark is built, it should be in Minneapolis on this site, but we shouldn't wait for that to develop the rest of the land," Rybak said. "I've always felt that this was not just a ballpark opportunity but a chance to reshape that section of town and finally reconnect North Minneapolis with the Central Business District via the Farmers' Market area."
Twins President Dave St. Peter said of Investment Management's decision to shift its focus, "We respect where they're at."
Still, he remains cautiously optimistic about the ballpark's prospects and hasn't ruled out a Warehouse District home.
"We certainly continue to believe it is a very viable ballpark site. We're excited at the prospects of it," St. Peter said. "We expect that over the course of the next few months we might have a clearer picture of what the long-term future is for that particular site."
Is Investment Management threatening to walk away as a way to spur city, county and state action? "No," Pogin said.
"We've worked on it for five years, and our conclusion is at this point it's going nowhere," he said, adding that recent comments made by lawmakers indicate that a new Twins stadium ranks low on the priority list.
Pogin said that one high-ranking political insider told them to "stop tilting at windmills."
"Under the current political construct, we just don't see anything happening so it only makes sense for us to work on what we're doing," he said. "Us not being involved is not going to stop Hennepin County or the Twins or whoever from continuing whatever their effort is. I personally think they're probably wasting their time at this point."
Pogin said it doesn't make sense for Investment Management to pump any more money into marketing "Twinsville." In 2004, the company spent $100,000 on the stadium effort, he said.
Instead, the transportation infrastructure that ballpark boosters coveted will be leveraged for housing.
The 5th Street bridge over the Rapid Park lots has been identified as a possible site for a major transit hub connecting the proposed Northstar Corridor commuter rail line and the Hiawatha light-rail transit (LRT) line, he said.
"We think the Northstar proposal is going to go through. That would link the light rail and commuter rail at the intersection of our property," Pogin said.
The developer pointed to St. Paul-based McGough Companies' development plans for new housing, retail and offices near the Bloomington Central LRT station and Mall of America as a prime example of rail's potential to spur development.
On the flipside, a site drawback is its proximity to the Hennepin Energy Resource Co. (HERC), 417 N. 5th St., the county's garbage burner.
While HERC poses challenges, Pogin said plans are under consideration to mitigate the garbage burner's impact on residents. The developer is also looking at ways to capitalize on HERC by drawing on its energy resources to heat sidewalks and streets.
"We think that there is a chance we can work with the county and pull noncritical energy off of HERC," he said. "It could be really cool."
Twinsville proponents envisioned a similar scheme for the stadium, which involved harnessing HERC's energy to heat fans' seats.
Pogin and his partner Bruce Lambrecht, CEO of Investment Management, have always floated two plans for the Rapid Park site. The ballpark plan also called for 2,000 condos while another early housing-only option called for 3,000 units.
Not quite out
While Pogin said political realities have started to sink in and sour the ballpark proposal, the developers don't entirely rule out moving forward with a new Twins stadium. The red "Twinsville" banner still hangs near the entrance to the Rapid Parking lots at North 5th Street & 3rd Avenue North.
"Our intention is to do no work at all on the stadium side and just focus on the housing. In the event something happens - a ballpark comes together - we'd have the ability to modify the plan," he said.
Pogin said Investment Management is working on a commitment from stadium proponents to declare the proposal for a Warehouse District ballpark dead by June 2007, or possibly earlier, by the end of this legislative session.
The developers have been working on the ballpark plan for five years.
"We're just switching gears and saying, 'This is not going to happen,'" Pogin said. "We're not going to spend any more time on it. We're going to devote the time and energy and resources we put into the stadium discussions into housing."