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Updated: December 11th, 2011 8:36pm
Zulgad's roundup: Wolves remain serious about Target Center makeover

Zulgad's roundup: Wolves remain serious about Target Center makeover

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Vikings stadium situation might be front and center, but the Timberwolves continue to be serious about getting $155 million of improvements to Target Center that would change the look of the building both inside and out.

If those improvements aren't made within the next five to seven years, Timberwolves President Chris Wright told 1500 ESPN the team could find itself in a situation where a new building might be the only answer.

"We are working very, very closely with AEG, which manages the building for the city," Wright said. "We're involved with seats at the table around any initiative that would have the Vikings coming back to this side of the river, if that happens.

"We understand that that may or may not happen. That's maybe Plan A. But if we need to go to Plan B, our goal over the next three to four years is really to secure the funding necessary that we need to refurbish this 20-year-old building."

Target Center opened in 1990 and had improvements made to it in 2004. But the Wolves' goal for the city-owned building is for it to be part of the financial package that also could result in the Vikings stadium being built in Minneapolis.

"I think that ultimately if it doesn't happen to this building in five, six, seven years time, whenever that would be, then you're looking at really an Orlando situation," Wright said. "Where by a new building would have to replace this one. We don't want to have to go in that direction. We really don't."

The Orlando Magic moved into a new arena in 2010 after initially playing in a building that was constructed in 1989. Wright said Target Center is the fourth-oldest arena in the NBA.

A plan for remodeling Target Center was unveiled in February and Wright discussed the latest ideas in detail on Friday at the Wolves' media day.

• The main lobby, which is on the First Avenue side, originally faced a parking lot and thus plenty of foot traffic came from City Center and that area. But Block E has since been built on the parking lot. The Wolves want to see the lobby relocated to the corner of First Avenue and 6th Street, which is the side that Huberts Sports Bar and Grill is on.

"We would utilize the space of our current lobby for a Lexus Courtside Club, similar to the one that we have now, but it will be more fluid," Wright said. "People would be able to park outside, walk into the building and walk straight to their seats inside of the arena."

• The signage on the building is original and needs to be replaced, according to Wright. "There are so many different technologies out there from high definition LED screens to Medimesh to many different types of technologies," he said.

• Target Field also has changed things. "We need to take advantage of the fact the Twins are now behind us, Target Plaza is in place, so there's opportunities for restaurants now on that backside of the building looking at Target Field and overlooking the plaza," Wright said. "Obviously, there are signage opportunities on the backside of the building as well."

Wright also addressed what the Wolves would like to see done inside Target Center.

• There are plans for four different types of clubs in the arena. The current Club Cambria would be redone, a new club would be added on the other end of the building and a bar would replace what is now section 221 above where Club Cambria sits. "All of those seats would be taken out," Wright said. "You're going to have a bar area up there that would allow patrons to have a food and beverage (service) while they are watching the game in the upper level."

• Another part of the project would be redoing the skyway level at Target Center and thus impact thousands of people, many of whom don't ever go inside the main arena. Wright points out that once the light-rail transit is complete, the hubs for five of them will be on the backside of Target Center.

"You're going to have 16,000 to 20,000 people walking through this building on a day-to-day basis," he said. "That's going to happen in the next five to seven years. We are the major artery to the downtown business district, from the three parking garages and the to-be five different transit hubs on the back of us.

"So everybody during the winter goes up into the skyways to get to the business district. That major thoroughfare is through this building, so it gives us a great opportunity in terms of the skyway and the redevelopment of the skyway area."

Work in progress

There already are some improvement projects that have been started in Target Center. The most recent, according to Wright, is about a $2 million investment in tearing out and building new concession stands.

Work is being done on the lower level and will then move upstairs.

Wright said a massive renovation project would not cause the Wolves to have to play games elsewhere for a season.

Asked what would happen if the Wolves do not get any assistance from the potential Vikings project, Wright said:

"Then you've got to go to Plan B and you've got to develop a different funding mechanism with the owner, the city of Minneapolis, and with some private investment from our ownership group and AEG.

"The mayor (R.T. Rybak) is very, very vested in this building. On numerous occasions, he has said, 'This is a big priority for me because it's a city-owned building.' He doesn't want it to be torn down. He doesn't want to have to face the potential of replacing this building. None of us want to do that. We want that sensible Minnesota solution for this building."

Wright called Target Center an "aging building," and added, "it's time," when asked why a new building would be needed at some point if improvements aren't made.

"It's like your home," he said. "If you've got a 21-year-old home and you don't commit to sustaining the structure of that home and putting into it the amenities that you need for it to be sound and competitive, than in the end you lose a lot of money on that home and you move on or you stay there and it crumbles around you."

Improved ticket sales

The Timberwolves haven't made the playoffs in seven years and won 15 and 17 games the past two seasons, respectively.

All of this hasn't made Wright's job any easier as he tries to keep people interested in the franchise. But he expressed optimism about the Wolves' direction on Friday.

"We're growing," said Wright, who is in his 20th year with the franchise. "We're going to have the largest (full-season ticket equivalent) base that we have had since the 2004-05 season. That's all of your 10 packs, six packs, three packs, rolled into one."

The Wolves sold more than 700 new full season-ticket packages when Ricky Rubio first came to town after signing in the early summer. Overall, the team has sold 2,700 new full season tickets, bringing the total to about 7,700. That is up from just over 5,000 at the end of last season.

It doesn't hurt that the Wolves decreased the prices on many tickets in recent years in order to try to get fans back in Target Center.

Wright said the excitement over the arrival of Rubio and second-overall pick Derrick Williams, along with the presence of Kevin Love and the hiring of Rick Adelman as coach, has helped the team sell out much of its inventory in the lower level. That's approximately 8,000 seats.

One reason Wright feels the Wolves didn't get a lot of angry response to the NBA lockout was the team already had gone about making corrections to its pricing and thus served notice things would be changing.

"I think this market is pretty savvy when it comes to it, and I think everybody was expecting some sort of a correction in the business model," he said. "We sort of initially went through it about three years ago when, once again, we didn't have a very good team and we didn't perform very well on the court.

"And we did our own correction of sorts relative to ticket pricing, etc. We lowered all of our ticket prices. We came with a phased approach, variable approach to ticket pricing to really hold onto our base.

"So some of the correction from a pricing standpoint we were already deep into two years ago before the CBA even became an issue. When your fans begin to see you doing that and see you going through that, what begins to happen in that world is they understand that something of a business correction needs to take place. That's another reason I think as to why it didn't really become a massive issue during the summer."

With their first regular-season game on Dec. 26 against Oklahoma City at Target Center, the Wolves are rolling out an advertising campaign with the slogan "Let's Play."

"You're going to see a lot of print, billboards and radio but not a lot of television initially because there aren't a lot of shots of players wearing their current uniforms," Wright said. "You've got to strategically place your media in the marketplace around the assets that you've got."

Goodell's 2 cents

With Minneapolis apparently back in the picture on a Vikings stadium and the team still hoping that Arden Hills is the answer, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the situation on Sunday.

"We're working with all the officials in support of getting something done (in Minnesota)," Goodell told reporters in Detroit before the Lions-Vikings game. "They continue to seek solutions and we'll be supportive of that."

NFL officials have been here in recent months to make sure state leaders understand the importance of getting a stadium solution for the Vikings, whose lease at the Metrodome expires after this season.

"I believe the leadership there wants to get it done," Goodell said. "We want to get it done. I know the Wilfs want to get it done. So we'll continue to work with the leadership there to make sure it gets done the right way. Not just for the NFL, but for the community."

Goodell said there has been concern for some time on the NFL's part about the Vikings situation.

"Indentifying those solutions are not easy," he said, "it takes time. They're complex projects. They're expensive projects. And they require a public-private partnership. So it takes time to find those solutions. But I think everyone's committed to doing that. So I'm confident we're going to get there."

Ready for change

New Wolves coach Rick Adelman had a ready response when he was asked about getting the most out of forward Michael Beasley this season.

"His growth is going to come if he starts making his teammates better," Adelman said. "When he gets the ball, we're hoping he's going to be able to attack and if they come at him he's got to find somebody else.

"He's got to be as consistent as possible. Like everybody on this team, defensively, the effort has got to be there all the time and (with) some guys it takes longer."

Adelman isn't afraid to talk about the fact that drastic changes are needed with a team that has been woeful in recent seasons and that means guys like Beasley will have to alter their approach.

"Let's face facts here. I'm not hiding anything," Adelman said. "They won 17 games (last season), so let's come to the realistic idea that things have to change. You can't go along the same way. I don't want to do that.

"I think these guys, if they really want to win and they really want to get better, then they all have to realize, 'Get out of your comfort zone, do things better in other areas than you've done to this point.'

And certainly a guy like Michael and a guy like Kevin (Love), those types of players, who are your better players, when they do it everybody will follow. That's what we have to find out. They're young and they've got to take that challenge."

Beasley was the second-overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft by Miami and spent two years with the Heat before being shipped to the Wolves. He averaged 19.2 points in 73 games last season.

Beasley got in trouble in June when he was cited in Minnetonka for possession of marijuana and speeding.

Final word(s)

• Wright was asked about the contract situation of Love, who is entering the final season of his rookie deal. "That will live inside of our basketball operations world," Wright said. "I'm sure we'll get asked our opinion, but that's up to David Kahn and Rick Adelman and Glen Taylor to really determine on how and when that begins to happen. How quickly that begins to happen. Obviously the goal of the club is to keep Kevin here. He's an incredible human being, he's a great person, he's a massive piece for our franchise going forward."

• Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith was pleased with the job freshman center Elliott Eliason did filling in for Ralph Sampson but he doesn't plan to try to create a bigger role for Eliason now that Sampson is back from an ankle injury.

"I won't be creating anything," Smith said. "When the opportunity presents itself, then we'll look (to him). By that I mean somebody is in foul trouble, we didn't rebound the ball well or we need his physicality in there. We need something going on. Just like any sport. I'm always looking for opportunities for guys to step up and do the job."

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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