MINNEAPOLIS -- The holiday season may be over, but the Twins received a very special gift of their own Monday.

In a clubhouse news conference at Target Field, the Twins were symbolically given the keys to their new home from Mortensen Construction after the major work on the ballpark was completed in 28 months -- more than two months ahead of schedule.

"Welcome to our future," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc., during the news conference. "This is it."

The Twins and the Minnesota Ballpark Authority received the certificate of occupancy for Target Field on Dec. 22, but Monday marked the club's first official day of operation in its new $550 million ballpark.

Standing inside the new spacious home clubhouse with Twins jerseys hanging on the lockers behind them, Bell and others closely involved with the project such as John Wood, senior vice president at Mortensen, and Mike Opat, chair of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, took off their construction hard hats and replaced them with Twins caps to mark the ceremonial transition of Target Field from construction site to a ballpark.

"It doesn't seem quite real yet," Bell said. "It's still settling in. I think it will take a little time. Maybe by the first game, I'm not sure. Somebody was in my office this morning and looked out at the ballpark and said it almost looks like a painting. But it's real."

More than 3,500 craft workers, 82 contractors and thousands of offsite workers helped Mortenson to finish up the major work on the project more than two months ahead of the scheduled completion date in March. It's a feat that Mortenson construction executive Dan Mehls said was "absolutely unheard of" for this type of project in professional sports.

Target Field is the second major Twin Cities sports facility completed ahead of schedule by Minneapolis-based Mortenson within the past year. The first was TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota football team, which was finished in July 2009.

Construction costs alone for Target Field, which sits in the Minneapolis Historic Warehouse District on the north edge of downtown between 5th and 7th Streets on 3rd Avenue North, were $425 million. Hennepin County taxpayers are covering roughly two-thirds of the project's cost, a total of $350 million, with a 15-cent sales tax that was approved back in 2006. The Pohlad family, which owns the Twins, paid the remaining amount of the cost for the project and that included upgrades that were not included in the Twins' original $130 million obligation.

The Twins celebrated being in their new home Monday, but they also lauded the fact that the ballpark was able to be completed using mostly regional workers and resources. Roughly $40 million in direct payroll costs went into the pockets of the workers, 96 percent of whom were from the Twin Cities, according to Wood. More than two million man hours were required to help build Target Field, and at a time when the country has been going through a recession, the project certainly provided a boost to many local construction workers and businesses.

"It really was a stimulus project before anyone was talking about the term," said Opat, who helped lead the effort to get legislation passed for the new ballpark. "We had 3,000 people touch this building, 600-800 people on site every day as the economy was tanking.

"It was a huge project. All the construction guys, the building trade folks, told me that they were able to keep more people working than otherwise and it kept people off the bench. It ended up to be a well-timed project."

There are 98 days remaining until the Twins host their home opener for the 2010 season at Target Field on April 12 against the Red Sox, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stopped by after the news conference to get a look at his new office as well as the entire clubhouse.

"It's gorgeous," Gardenhire said. "It's big. It's a really, really nice place -- our own place. That's what it's about -- not sharing anymore. Not having to wait for someone else to finish playing before we can play. Not having to tear the field down for one thing and then put it back up for another.

"The Dome was very good to us and the people there treated us great. But this is the right way baseball should be in Minnesota. The Twins deserve this and the people of Minnesota deserve to come to a ballpark like this."

It's somewhat of a chaotic time for the Twins as they settle into their new home and prepare for their first season at Target Field. But there is also a lot of excitement for the club, particularly since it can now plan for the future -- something that seemed impossible less than a decade ago when it was uncertain whether the Twins could remain in Minnesota.

"A few years ago, we never did a five-year plan because we didn't know our future. Now we do," Bell said. "This [ballpark] is stability for the Minnesota Twins. I'm really, really pleased for all of the people who work for the Twins because they can plan on their future. That's the biggest thing that this ballpark does for our organization.

"For fans, it's going to mean baseball presented the way it was supposed to be. Sure, there are going to be rainouts, there are going to be cold days, but most of it will be nice days -- sunny skies, on the grass, better facilities and wider concourses -- all the things that modern ballparks have."