"Through all the planning discussions, we've had two objectives," said Twins president Jerry Bell. "One, it has to be fan friendly, because ultimately that's how we're going to be judged. And two, it has to be a Minnesota ballpark, and we're very pleased with everything we've seen so far."
There won't be a roof -- fixed or retractable -- on the new Minnesota Twins ballpark, but there will be enough heat under the real-grass field to melt any unseasonable snow, and a canopy over the top deck. Plus, heated viewing areas will welcome the less-hardy fans who show up on chilly game days. Those are just some of the features of the cozy little 40,000-seat park displayed Thursday by the Twins and the ballpark's architects.
"The field will be heated, so you won't have to go to some other city to play baseball," said Earl Santee, senior principal of HOK Sport, alluding to this week's shift of the snowed-under Cleveland Indians to move games to Milwaukee's retractable-roof stadium. The plan is to have the new stadium finished in time to open the season in 2010, and part of making that happen is HOK's partnering with HGA, a Minnesota architectural and engineering company.
"There are 81 game days," said Bill Blanski, vice president of HGA, "but there are also 284 other days when we want this to be a wonderful place to be. It can be the rebirth of the whole neighborhood."
Ken Sorensen, vice president of the M.A. Mortenson architectural group from Minneapolis, stressed the community involvement with every step of the construction.
"The community will be involved with the construction, and we're making sure minorities and females are involved with the business end and the workforce. We plan to have Bid Package 1 on the street for us to pick contractors, and we'd like to be able to award a contract by the end of April.
"That would allow us to be on-site by early May, so we could start site clearing, fencing, asphalt removal, scraping off two feet of topsoil, and utility relocation, which will continue throughout the summer," Sorensen added. "Then we could be in position to start building in August. Part of the infrastructure we're responsible for is the pedestrian bridges to downtown, and work on them will start in September or October, concurrent with construction."
Santee said that among the challenges is the approved site, in downtown Minneapolis, which encompasses only eight acres -- "the smallest site we've had among the 60 ballparks we've designed," he said.
"That's been our challenge, but I would say it's a ballpark for the ages -- today and in the future. It will sustain itself, from an energy standpoint, and we didn't compromise on one thing.
"We're part of downtown. We're on the west side, but we're part of downtown. Fans will be able to come to ballgames by bus, on foot, by bike, skyway, car, light rail or commuter rail. There will be [pedestrian] bridges from sixth, seventh and fifth street, and there are 20,000 parking spaces within a five-block area. The Hiawatha Line [light rail] terminates at the ballpark, and if you get off the train and walk 20 steps, you're in the ballpark."
The 40,000-seat stadium will cover one million square feet, and when fans enter the stadium, from the pedestrian bridges or the light-rail transit line, they will be on a concourse 40 feet wide -- twice as wide as the current concourse at the Metrodome. That concourse will run a full 360 degrees around the entire ballpark, offering a view of the field all the way around. The top level, called the Terrace Level, will be shielded by a modernistic, curved canopy, which will provide shelter from rain and wind. Down one level is the Suite Level, then the Club Level, and finally the Lower Level, which will have 20,000 seats -- fully half of the capacity. A steep set of bleachers will be in left field, with more seats around the outfield to right.
"It's also about nature," Santee said. "The base of the structure from left to right field will be Minnesota limestone ... and there will be Minnesota fir trees beyond the outfield. Fans will be able to see the sun, also. Fans will be able to walk to the concourse to go to the concession stands, and they could walk to heated lounge areas, and choose whether they would rather watch the game from indoors or out.
"There will be a kids area, a family area. We want to give the fans no reason not to come. The field itself is at street level. The video board above left field will be one of the largest screens in any stadium."
Another screen will be in right field, which also will have the best view of the city's skyline. Put in further perspective, if Justin Morneau hit a long drive over the right-field wall and it hooked foul but carried over the genesis of westbound Interstate-394, it might hit Target Center, where the NBA's Timberwolves play. Without a roof, such a fantasy is possible.
And being open-air also will make it possible for fans to thumb their noses when they hear the sirens being tested on Minnesota's annual "severe-weather warning day."