A ballpark by the burner:

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February 19, 2002 // UPDATED 1:13 pm - April 30, 2007
By: David Brauer
David Brauer

Forget for a moment whether state or city taxpayers should subsidize a new ballpark for the Minnesota Twins. Forget how -- or whether -- Minneapolis can beat out St. Paul.

Whatever your feelings about public subsidy, the city council and various task forces agree on one thing: that if a ballpark is somehow financed and built in Minneapolis, it will be on the so-called Rapid Park site Downtown.

Right now, Rapid Park is an undistinguished surface parking lot in the Warehouse District-North Loop area, wedged between the Hennepin County garbage burner to the west, 5th Street and 7th Street to the north and south, and to the east, the 394 exit ramps and Target Center.

Assuming the politicians and businesspeople fashion a deal, how would the ballpark integrate into Downtown? We answer nine questions to get you up to speed. 1. Why the Rapid Park site? City officials believe the parking lot is the cheapest place to build a stadium that's already kicked up considerable political dust searching for money. There are no businesses whose relocation must be financed. There is only one ownership group, simplifying a purchase.

The infrastructure needed to support a ballpark is there and largely paid for. There are massive parking ramps across 7th and 5th Streets that don't fill up, even during the day. There is highway access directly off 394. The new Hiawatha light-rail line will stop one block away at 5th Street and 1st Avenue North. The proposed North Star commuter-rail line is slated to run between burner and ballpark; one stadium plan calls for the trains to go under the third-base stands.

2. Is there a willing seller? "We're interested, yes," said Bruce Lambrecht, who heads a 75-person partnership that owns the property.

Lambrecht hasn't hid his enthusiasm; for two years he has been marketing the site as a ballpark on the web at http://www.urbanballpark.com. There have been no negotiations yet, but officials estimate the cost in the $10 million-$20-million range. Hennepin County is seen as a likely buyer, since they have a rail authority, and the land would also be used for the North Star commuter line.

3. But it's right next to the garbage burner. If I go to a game, wouldn't I smell garbage? Based on neighbors' experience, no. "I've never smelled a smell from the burner -- not ever, and I've been here since they opened," said Bev Vanlith, volunteer coordinator at Sharing and Caring Hands, 525 N. 7th St., which -- like the ballpark site -- sits just southeast of the burner.

Minneapolis planning director Chuck Ballentine said the burner burns so hot it doesn't emit smells. However, he added that trucks with particularly smelly deliveries may be rescheduled to times when games aren't going on.

4. OK, but won't pollution rain down on my head sitting next door to that thing?

No more than anywhere else Downtown, say pollution-control officials. Anne Jackson, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency engineer, said computer modeling shows the burner's stack is so high that pollutants are carried away from Downtown. "It turns out the maximum exposure is north of the facility, around Broadway Avenue," said Jackson. "It's like a sprinkler, the water goes up but it goes out into the yard."

Paula Maccabee, the coordinator of the Sierra Club's Air Toxics campaign, said fans probably have more to worry about from vehicle exhaust from the highway, parking ramps, and Downtown streets. A pollution monitor at the nearby Downtown Central Library shows higher levels of benzene, a carcinogen from auto exhaust, than at any other monitor in the Twin Cities.

5. Will we be able to shield ourselves with a roof? Initially, no. Ballentine said the city is not even exploring a roof-ready model, which could accommodate a roof when funds are found. However, the Twins want one, and fans from outstate want to be sure the game they travel to will be played. Expect their legislators to require roof-readiness if a subsidy is approved.

6. Would fans get any help with the weather? The cleverest idea is to use the garbage burner as the boiler for an elaborate radiator to warm fans' fannies. The burner would make steam, delivered via pipes underneath the seating and field. "You couldn't do much about rainouts, but it would take the edge off in April and October," said Ballentine.

The burner's builders planned ahead; nearby bridge foundations have openings so a steam pipe can easily connect to Downtown. However, Ballentine admits no engineering studies have been done. Another problem: the county has contracts with private companies for the burner's power, and those firms would have to be compensated if steam diverts to the ballpark.

7. The park is surrounded by garbage burners, parking ramps, and the bland Target Center. What are the chances of a postcard view over center field?

The city and Rapid Park's current owners (who have commissioned their own ballpark drawings) insist that the view will be cool. The burner can be hidden behind the third-base stands. The park will rise high enough that you won't see much of Target Center or the ramps; instead, Downtown skyscrapers will loom. Unfortunately, City Center's leaden 33 S. 6th tower (formerly the Multifoods Tower) effectively blocks the picturesque Wells Fargo Center.

8. Will there be a skyway connection? Not exactly. When Block E opens, you'll be able to take a skyway west from Downtown to Target Center.

Ballentine said planners want to build an open-air pedestrian plaza over 394 connecting Target Center and ballpark. "We'll talk to [Minneapolis congressman] Martin Sabo about [federal] freeway mitigation money," said Ballentine. "Duluth did decks over [Interstate] 35 to connect to the riverfront. We can, too."

9. Can we expect any ballpark-related Downtown development? Even proponents are split. The Metrodome is a well-known development bust. "We're not betting on any redevelopment," said Ballentine. "Things are already going well in [the Warehouse District]."

Ballentine's boss, Mayor R.T. Rybak, disagrees, believing that a ballpark can speed up momentum already happening. "I believe we'll have redevelopment, though you have to have modest expectations. "Rybak hopes the ballpark will spur development of a trench of surface parking lots north from the Rapid Park site (the lots are under street-level overpasses between 5th Street and Washington Avenue). Some experts think the nearby LRT & North Star rail lines will be enough to encourage residential and commercial development without the expense of a ballpark.