Wolves blink: Target Center gets improvements now

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September 22, 2003 // UPDATED 11:04 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

After seeking city funds, NBA team pays for $4 million new scoreboard and other improvements that could boost Downtown businesses

It could be a shot in the arm for both the Timberwolves and Warehouse District business -- the Target Center is getting a $4 million-plus facelift, including a new state-of-the-art scoreboard, a "ribbon" message board that will circle the arena and skyway-level store, paid for by team owner Glen Taylor.

During tight financial times, the city is also contributing $14 million to upgrade the arena it owns. That spending has long been planned and is obligated by its lease with the Wolves.

The city bought the Target Center, 600 1st Ave. N., in 1995 to keep the Wolves in town; as a condition of the lease, the city must maintain the building on par with other National Basketball Association (NBA) arenas. The lease obligates the city to buy one new scoreboard by 2024, when the lease expires. However, the city, beset with a budget crisis, is in no hurry to make the purchase. Instead, the Wolves will pony up this season.

"We felt the urgency of providing the modern technology to our fans now," said Rob Moor, team president. "We weren't willing to say to fans, 'We are going to get you the scoreboard, but geez, it is a couple of years away based on the process.'"

The center-hung scoreboard will feature a message center and four high-resolution video screens, with good views from every seat, the team's Web page said. The Timberwolves will also install a "ribbon board," a signage board that loops 360-degrees around the inside of the arena -- and a new video message board outside the arena at 1st Avenue and North 6th Street.

The new signs and control room cost $4 million, Moor said. The team will also spend $90,000 for a new floor.

Reed Katzung, Target Center's director of operations, said the new floor would have the same graphics, but the floor's maple will be darker and it will have three-inch-wide boards instead of inch-and-a-half wide boards, more of "a true parquet floor," he said.

(Former Twins ace Kevin Tapani is negotiating to buy the old basketball floor. He wants to donate it to his former high school -- which his son attends -- in Escanaba, Mich., Katzung said.)

Moor said Target Center's new floor would have rubber in the subfloor, making it "softer."

"The whole direction of the NBA is you take as good care of your players' knees as you possibly can," he said.

The city, meanwhile, is looking to soften its own financial blows.

The Wolves touted the $14 million city "contribution" when it announced the team-funded improvements, raising a question why the city is spending millions on this project when it is cutting essential services. However, Pat Born, city finance director, said the city is not paying for anything beyond what it is already contractually obligated to spend.

The city has been paying off Target Center with money in the Common Project, a pool of property taxes from city development projects. State commercial property tax reductions in 2001 decreased Target Center's contribution, punching a $1.5 million annual hole in Minneapolis' financing plan, beyond upgrades promised in the lease.

Target Center, Timberwolves and city officials are still working out the details of what Minneapolis should pay for. Those decisions would not have been made in time to buy and install the new scoreboard for the Timberwolves' Oct. 29 opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The city could pay for acoustical improvements, which may be vital to competing with St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center for concert business. Some have criticized the Target Center for having poorer sound quality than the St. Paul building.

The Target Center was designed with superb acoustics, but the sound scheme was not fully executed, Moor said. It needs some sound-absorbing materials on the walls behind the seats and drapery or baffles on the ceiling.

"The former owners decided not to go the last inch of putting on the sound-absorbing materials for the simple fact that they wanted to have the games be as loud as possible for the Timberwolves," he said.

Katzung estimated the acoustical improvements would cost $1.5 million.

The Wolves also hope the city's $14 million can pay for new seats next season. Katzung estimated those would cost $4 million.

Other possible improvements include routine replacement of the roof or heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.

Moor said the Timberwolves are in much better shape than other local professional sports teams such as the Twins and Vikings, who have complained about sight-line problems or revenue generation.

"We are not talking about a need to tear [Target Center] down and rebuild it," he said. "It is a very, very sound and good building functionally. It needs some fairly well-thought-out but surface, superficial improvements to give the fans a much, much better experience."