The Little Idea That Could: The untold story about the development of Target Field

Attendees at February's bi-monthly Real Estate Executive Insight Series were lucky enough to hear an insider account detailing one of the largest development projects in the recent history of the Twin Cities. However, the story of Bruce Lambrecht & Dave Albersman and their little idea to save Minnesota baseball was more than a recount of a development project-it is a uniquely American tale-one filled with tragedy, triumph, the encouragement that anyone who works hard enough can succeed, and of course baseball. Although this story ends in condemnation, after an 18 month battle over eminent domain, neither Lambrecht or Albersman make any apologies or seem to have any regrets, and, rightfully so, after hearing their recount of events.

Talk of returning to outdoor baseball was not a new idea in Minnesota.  In fact, almost as soon as the Twins began playing in the Metrodome in 1982, investors, developers, and municipalities began exploring the idea of a return to outdoor baseball. The first major effort to relocate the Twins was a study conducted by the city of Minneapolis in 1996 in which seven new sites were identified (the Rapid Park site was not one of them) as possible locations for a new ballpark-when presented to the legislature the proposal failed. A second attempt was shot down the next year, and for the time being hope for a new stadium seemed to be lost…

Enter Bruce Lambrecht & Dave Albersman

When looking at the past experience of Lambrecht and Albersman, one would not guess that these two men were behind one of the biggest development projects in the last decade, in Minnesota, not to mention one of the best places in the country to watch baseball. Like many innovators they do not credit their own genius, rather the power of the idea and the success that comes from unwavering commitment, sweat, and toil.

Bruce Lambrecht, a real estate developer who owned and operated several mini-storage facilities and parking lots (including the eight acre Rapid Park that is now the home of Target Field) happened upon a short book titled City Baseball Magic, a short argument outlining the positive attributes of urban baseball - like Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  After reading the book he immediately called his mother, and informed her that he intended to save the Twins from contraction by building a new stadium on one of his parking lots.  Without hesitation she replied, “Oh? That’s nice dear.”  The next day, Lambrecht met Dave Albersman by chance while each watched their sons play football.  Albersman is an architect specializing in the design and integration of parking structures and car rental operations into major airports across the country. Standing in the rain the two men discussed the idea and decided that it was worth a second meeting. Soon after, they went down to the site and from the center of the parking lot looked up at the Minneapolis skyline and knew they were onto something.

The first thing Lambrecht and Albersman realized, was that if they were going to have any chance at convincing others that they were capable of such an undertaking, they would need to come prepared with answers to the concerns that would surely arise. They identified four major arguments against the site, and developed ways to turn these liabilities into some of the locations best assets. By taking the designs of other ballparks and comparing their size to the size of the Rapid Park they were able to ensure there was enough room for a stadium and begin drawing up plans. To describe the feeling they had after they realized that it actually was possible, Lambrecht paid homage to one of the great actors of our time with this quote…

Within a year they had developed all of the technical plans and mockups, which signaled the beginning of the next seven years of Lambrecht and Albersman’s careers and lives. A politically savvy salesman, Lambrecht realized that selling a stadium to the legislature would be difficult. Because many Minnesotans viewed using public funds for the stadium as the middle class paying for a billionaire owner with millionaire athletes, Lambrecht and his partners developed the idea of “Twinsville”. Twinsville represented much more to the community than a ballpark, it was a neighborhood revitalization project. Condos, retail, office, and green space were all worked into the plans, and by the time it was done the ball park appeared as only a section of the plans. To gain further support for the site, he worked with the Hennepin energy resource center (garbage burner) on  a direct heating system that utilized the steam generated by the garbage burner that would  heat the field during the off season, thereby creating  a green Target Field early in the season and making Target Field, truly “green before green was cool”.

In 2004 Lambrecht and the county agreed on a deal, and the land was sold as an option in exchange for cash and 5 adjacent acres for Lambrecht to develop. In the 11th hour the deal fell through, and it seems as if this improbable story was going to wind up with a much more probable end. Lambrecht was not deterred and continued lobbying for the stadium.  Finally in 2006, Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the stadium bill into law. Lambrecht eagerly awaited a call from the county requesting the deal be reinstated, with the intent to call the option and the project to finally break ground. Unfortunately, the only contact from the county involved a condemnation notice citing eminent domain. After an 18 month court battle, Lambrecht’ partnership, Land Partners II, received the largest condemnation settlement in Minnesota history, and sat back to watch his idea finally come to life.  received the largest condemnation One of the keys to the success of the project, and something that Lambrecht mentioned repeatedly, was the proximity to public transportation. The project began before a single light rail track had been laid, but he was convinced that it would come, and it certainly did. In fact, the station next to Target Field will be the main transfer point for the next wave of commuter rail, making it easier for more and more fans to enjoy what is truly a remarkable ballpark.

This story of Lambrecht and Albersman’s development idea is a great example of how commercial real estate is connected, designed, planned, and built. However, it seems to be much more than that, their story is a real testament to the sometimes forgotten idea that with a lot of hard work, perseverance, and a little luck, anything is possible.

Enjoy this recap?  Attend an upcoming Real Estate Executive Insight Series Event.  Events are free and open to the public.  Visit the MSRE events website to learn more.

This feature is from UST's Real Estate Matters Blog written by Full-time UST MBA student Noah Freed.