SBJ/November 3 - 9, 2003/Facilities

New venture scopes out Target

The Minnesota Timberwolves and The Nederlander Group may form a partnership to buy out Clear Channel Entertainment's 30-year management lease at city-owned Target Center in Minneapolis. There are 21 years left on the contract.

The common denominator is Dana Warg, Nederlander's Los Angeles-based vice president of development and programming. He managed Target Center when it opened in 1990 under the operation of Ogden Entertainment through August 2002, two years after Clear Channel bought out the management agreement.

"We are talking about acquiring the lease with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor," Warg said. "Things could firm up within the next 30 days." If the deal is consummated and approved by the city, Warg said, he would assume a management role with the NBA franchise. The joint venture could mean a restructuring of the lease in which the team could gain control of arena revenue.

Timberwolves President Rob Moor said the team has met with Warg regarding building operations but nothing has been completed. Moor described the meetings as "casual discussions" and said the team has a great relationship with Clear Channel.

"We're always talking about different ways to generate revenue," he said. "But it hasn't gotten to the point where we're discussing how to make more money off of popcorn. It's going to take a lot more input for a decision to be made, and Clear Channel has to decide what course of action it wants to take."

Target Center general manager Steve Mattson, employed by Clear Channel, acknowledged that his firm has talked with the NBA franchise and Nederlander about taking over facility operations. Mattson has worked at the venue since it opened. He was assistant GM for 12 years before assuming Warg's job when he left Target Center.

Nederlander, which owns and operates amphitheaters and performing arts venues in addition to producing live entertainment, could step into Clear Channel's shoes to aggressively book Target Center for non-NBA events. Mattson said the Twin Cities landscape has become "highly competitive, especially for the high-profile concerts. It's a knockdown, dragout fight" for dates with 4-year-old Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The change in leasehold rights would solidify the team's commitment to sharing costs with the city on upgrades that Warg said could ultimately amount to $30 million worth of capital improvements.

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