No news is good news for Authority

No news is good news for Authority

Flash forward to the year 2010, and picture a nice crowd of 35,000 enjoying a Minnesota Twins game in the new and cozy outdoor ballpark in Minneapolis. Then the word comes down that the sinister foul smell that had been bothering folks is not from a nearby waste management facility upwind, but from underground waste spillage far beneath the stadium.

The Environmental Protection Agency makes the only proclamation possible -- "Tear down the new stadium!"

Far fetched? Perhaps, but the scenario is perhaps the most frightening one of the incredible labyrinth of details in the voyage leading up to the imminent start of ballpark construction.

Ed Hunter, project manager for the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, acknowledged that the matter could have been the "nightmare of all nightmares," after he had addressed the Authority's board Friday, and declared that everything is falling into place -- on time, and within budget.

"I got word today that the final steps of the agreement with [Burlington-Northern and Santa Fe Railroad] have been agreed on, and the land will be available to start work next Tuesday," Hunter told the board. "The execution of the Northstar [commuter rail] and the Hiawatha extension dovetails with the BNSF agreement, along with the 5th Street Bridge reconstruction.

"All we need is a letter of no prejudice or the granting of the agreement, and it will be OK to proceed June 1. The 5th St. Bridge is closed now ... so when Mortenson mobilizes on the site next week, everything should be realigned properly with the bridge in time for pile-driving for the abuttment."

Mortenson is the construction company that is contracted to build the ballpark, and just hearing the magic words were inspirational to Dan Mehls, Mortenson's on-site executive.

"Getting on site means we can start pulling asphalt," Mehls told the board. "The office trailers are already on site, and the surveyors have been busy. Soil erosion control starts Monday.

"I've referenced three objectives," added Mehls. "First, getting on site, which we've already done; second, getting the railroad issues out of the way, and when I hear that we can start Tuesday. Third is starting driving piles, which is our next mission, by August."

That groundbreaking is certain to be a festive occasion. While the construction side is falling into place, so is the financial side. Wells-Fargo, the selected trustee for the project, has already received $45 million from the Twins ballclub, with the first bond-issue money due May 30, to cover early expenses. A sum of $5.9 million is going back to the Twins for reimbursement of expenditures the team has already made.

Mehls said Mortenson received three bids for work on off-site infrastructure, and is prepared to award the work. Other packages deal with issues such as the bridge over Interstate 394, which will separate the new ballpark from Target Center and the First Avenue nightclub district, and the construction of a Vertical Circulator, which will be the final station for light rail lines both real and proposed, bringing fans from various directions with all lines ending at the ballpark.

Current light rail service runs from the airport and the Mall of America to the south to downtown, with a stop at the Metrodome. Its Hiawatha Extension will extend the line to arrive on the upper level of the bridge at the new ballpark entrance, while the proposed Northstar commuter rail to be built from Elk River through the north and northwestern suburbs, will arrive on a lower level of the same station on a lower level.

"Also, the Central Corridor line of light rail connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis will come to that station," said Hunter. "All of that is being built right into the ballpark, and that will be a phenomenal convenience to fans who want to come by light rail or commuter train from all different directions."

The coordination of so many details, such as ground evaluation and preparation, came together in a timely manner. Hunter said.

"After struggling with the BNSF agreement for so long, to have it come together and get all these things in hand is a great feeling. We started talking to BNSF in October of last year, and it took Northstar several years before they were willing to work with us."

Hunter, who previously was the assistant project manager for the group that built Safeco Field in Seattle, said it has been gratifying to see such diverse interests come together in such a coordinated manner.

"I wouldn't say the railroad and Northstar were easy to deal with, because they have their own interests that they want to protect, just as we do. Nobody wants to be the one that could ruin a project like this, but at the same time, none of us was willing to back off on some issues. We all examined everything and decided what were deal-killers, and what we could be flexible on, and we worked it out.

"We couldn't have done it all without the Twins. They came in and gave them all assurances that these were very real, viable plans, and everything got taken care of."

Among the unique features is that the tightly designed ballpark fits into such a small area by using every square foot effectively.

"You know, we're building out over Interstate [394], as well as in coordination with the railroad," said Hunter. "So our ballpark will reach over the railroad on one side, and over the freeway on the other."

As if all that wasn't daunting enough, the best indication of this becoming a ballpark of destiny is the fortunate decision to evaluate the ancient underground sewer situation, starting about six weeks ago.

"With the Northstar and rail projects right in the same area, there was some concern about the existing sewer system," said Hunter. "It is deep, and it was built in the late 1800s, so there was some concern because we were going to be building right on top of it. So at the 11th hour, they decided to reline the whole thing. It's all going to be done just in time for our start of construction."

If it hadn't been checked and updated, the aged system might have easily ruptured with the pile-driving and construction above.

"It could have been the nightmare of all nightmares," said Hunter. "It all amounts to the ballpark, the commuter rail, and all other projects coordinating over what is really an emergency situation."

Consider all the incredibly complex details that could have gone wrong: the land acquisition; proper deposit of money to the trustee account; the railroad as well as current and future commuter rail systems getting on board, so to speak; contract bids coming up and going out; Department of Transportation approval for bridge and street rearrangement; and even repairs for an old sewer that were, fortunately, carried out before the stadium was built.

No wonder on Friday afternoon, when the Minnesota Ballpark Authority board meeting breezed through several resolutions and motions with unanimous approval, and heard the encouraging word that the start of actual construction is near, there was nothing unexpected that could have resembled big news.

That, alone, was good news.

John Gilbert is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.