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Vikings stadium: From a metro planning perspective, Metrodome site is superior

Recycling the Metrodome location is a better fit for the trends of the next half-century.
Photo by Mark Fay/Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Recycling the Metrodome location is a better fit for the trends of the next half-century.

Even if you agree that keeping the Vikings in the Twin Cities market is a good idea there's something fundamentally wrong with the pay-to-play deal that the Legislature has offered to the two competing local governments.

What's wrong is that the two sites — an abandoned ammunition plant in Arden Hills and the current Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis — are qualitatively opposite in their impact on the metro community. As now structured, it's up to the Vikings to choose a local partner (and site) that fits them best. But there's no guarantee that they will choose the site that brings the best long-range benefit to the community as a whole. That's because, as I said, the two sites are so fundamentally different.


The Arden Hills site is a perfect 1970s-era solution. It's roomy and relatively remote. With no close neighbors, the team could call its own shots. The layout would probably place the stadium at the center of a large parking lot with ample tailgating opportunities for fans and parking revenues for the team. It's unlikely that the site would attract much use except for the 10 or so NFL games played there each year. Hwys. 35W and 10 would need a new set of interchanges to handle the occasional burst of traffic. Fans would continue to depend on driving to get to the site; there would be no other option.

Recycling the Metrodome location is a better fit for the trends of the next half-century. The site leverages infrastructure investments already made, including two light rail lines, a connection to commuter rail, the state's two busiest freeways, thousands of parking spots, a grid of streets for easy traffic dispersal, a network of hotels and restaurants, and a tie-in to convention facilities.

Diluting your assets
In other words, the Dome site offers customers more options and carries greater potential for non-football events, both local and national. Its location delivers more efficiency with less impact on the environment. And it adds to a concentration of other assets that makes the metro region more competitive nationally. From a competitiveness standpoint, putting an NFL stadium in Arden Hills is a little like mixing a weak drink. When assets spread out they lose their collective punch.

Although the Dome did not generate adjacent development over the three decades of its useful life, that's likely to change in the years ahead as gasoline prices rise and efficient development becomes a critical issue. If not for the current housing lull, Minneapolis' riverfront redevelopment surge would have spread into the Dome area by now. As it is, the Guthrie Theater and its adjacent housing sits only three blocks from the Dome.

The Dome site does have drawbacks for the team, however. If the stadium were build directly on the Metrodome's footprint, the Vikings would be forced to play for two seasons at the University of Minnesota, something they don't want to do.

As far as I know, the broader implications of site selection aren't part of any deal the team might strike with a local partner. The Vikings are expected to announce a partnership with either Ramsey County or Minneapolis as early as this week. If they choose Ramsey County, which seems most likely, they may get a stadium in Arden Hills that suits their corporate interest, but not one that delivers the most potent long-term benefit to the community.

There's one safeguard that I know of. The Metropolitan Council has the authority to study major projects of "metropolitan significance" as a way to ensure that they fit into the grid of metro services (roadways, transit, wastewater systems, land-use planning, etc.) Any such study would reveal the superiority of the Metrodome site. The question is whether Gov. Mark Dayton is willing to put the Vikings' selection to that test.

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Comments (31)

Feelings on whether this stadium can really be justified aside, I think this assessment of location is right on. The Arden Hills site is truly backward-looking, and the Target Field site seems harder to develop. Plus you may as well spread the positives across downtown a bit rather than have it all on the same block.

....The site leverages infrastructure investments already made, including two light rail lines, a connection to commuter rail, the state's two busiest freeways, thousands of parking spots, a grid of streets for easy traffic dispersal, a network of hotels and restaurants, and a tie-in to convention facilities....

You misread the reason why people take the light rail to the games. It's not for any green reason, it is to avoid the difficulty and cost of parking near the Metrodome. A suburban setting with plenty of parking within walking distance trumps urban settings. How else do you explain the success of the shopping mall in its many versions over the declining atmosphere of the downtown retailers? As for a grid of streets to disperse traffic, haven't you seen the gridlock at the same half-dozen freeway entrances after the game? I'm not really sure how you can dismiss the Arden Hills site with close proximity to old 10, new 10, 35w, 694, 96, Snelling, and old 8. As for proximity of restaurants, hotels and convention center, it can be seen that decades of time have not led to a renaissance of the area around the dome.

Neal Rovick says: "You misread the reason why people take the light rail to the games. It's not for any green reason, it is to avoid the difficulty and cost of parking near the Metrodome."

That sounds like a fantastic argument to build where transit will be an option. In a suburban setting people will still need to cross expanses of parking lots to get to the door. I'd rather get off a train and cross a short plaza, buying a dog and goods any day over driving to a game.

Reagarding Neal Rovick's comment: You don't build a 50-year football stadium based on travel preferences in 2011. You anticipate trends over the lifetime of the investment. Given pressures of energy cost and availability, air quality and climate issues, it's doubtful that driving a personal car to a game in 2030 will be as attractive as it is today. That's why it's so important to imbed travel options into major community investments.

As for traffic dispersal at the Dome, people don't have to line up at the ramps. That's the miracle of a street grid. There are MANY ways to depart the Dome area and eventually connect up with freeways. Modeling and experience clearly shows that true traffic problems result from a lack of options. I recall a 90-minute wait getting out of the old Met parking lot because there were so few exits (options). A big parking lot is the worst sort of traffic bottleneck.

All in all, the Dome site is the most conservative choice; it conserves land, fuel and air quality; and, in keeping the Minnesota values, it makes better use of investments already made.

As someone who grew up a few miles down from the proposed Arden Hills site on Highway 96, I am appalled that the site is honestly being considered. The road infrastructure surrounding it is atrociously bad, as well as non-existent in the site itself. I feel as if Tony Bennett et al. are desperate enough to get anything on the TCAAP that they are willing to sacrifice common sense and their political careers for it.

A few thoughts:
- When the cost for 2 people to go to a Vikings game is at least $150-200, 3 gallons of gasoline @ $5/gallon is no big deal.
- Ziggy Wilf is a real estate DEVELOPER! Which site has open, undeveloped prperty immediately available next to the site? Obvious answer - Arden Hills.
- The Vikings fans I've observed in recent years are young, in a party mode and would love to have an opportunity to tailgate. Decent opportunities for same are incredibly limited at the dome site.

I've got Price, Personality (of owner) & Partiers. You have Practicality and Politics. My three will beat your two!

Building a new football stadium anywhere is a toxin brewed from corporate greed, civic cowardice and a good deal of madness.

About a mile away from the dome stands a nearly new football stadium. So the Wilf company doesn't want to perform there? Why not? If the U's stadium lacks the high-roller boxes the Wilfs want, let the Wilf company add them; such structural changes certainly would cost less than a $900 million stadium. Not enough seats? Jack up ticket prices to compensate; they'll go up anyway, just as the baseball company raised prices in its new stadium.

The Gopher and Viking entertainment business perform on different days, the U has plenty of parking that's empty on Sundays, and the U certainly could use the income from stadium rental -- or even let the Wilfs use the place for free in gratitude for bringing in more exhorbitant parking revenue.

How many poor folks have to go without healthcare, how many fire rigs have to be short-staffed and how many youngsters have to be crowded into classrooms so civic leaders can sigh with relief that they didn't "lose" the Vikings?

Funding a private entertainment venue -- a second stadium for today's equivalent of bread and circus -- when the state teeters on bankruptcy has all the sanity of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

@2: I don't know why the individual motivation matters. If both solutions solve the problem, why wouldn't we take the more "green" one?

Before I start, I should mention that I'm very liberal, but I'm in complete agreement with Neal Rovick.

Growing up in Wisconsin, we went to Milwaukee tons of times and tailgated at County Stadium before (and after) Brewers games. I've done it a few times at Lambeau Field as well. **I consider it a big part of the game experience.** Because of this and other reasons, I feel that Target Field is inferior to Miller Park.

There are so few people who attend NFL games who care about being green or sustainable or whatever other buzzword you can come up with. They want to drive in an SUV with a grill in the back. You can't do any of this very easily downtown.

Beyond all this, I'm vehemently opposed to public subsidy for a stadium when we're laying off teachers.

There is plenty of land around the Dome to developer. It's a sea of parking!

As for tailgater, quite frankly, it is the height of irresponsibility to sacrifice the sustainability of our community to accommodate a few thousand people who want to tailgate 8 times a year.

The Arden Hills site is atrocious. I have already called Gov. Dayton and the Met Council about this, urging them to oppose it at every opportunity. It is exactly the wrong thing to do for our future.

@David Greene

If it's only eight times a year, what difference does it make for "sustainability?"

p.s. That word is the most meaningless, overused buzzword since "paradigm."

Steve - Curiously, you don't address a major aspect of the locational choice: the physical disamenity of a football stadium. Yes, it's better to have it near to bars and transit for the 40 hours a year people are arriving for and departing from games, but the rest of the time one would like it packed up and taken away. It is just a huge physical obstruction and a dead zone in an urban core one wants to be walkable and vital. Putting it in the urban core only maximizes the opportunity cost of urban land uses and density foregone. I say with the ice caps disappearing it is time to be grown-ups and recognize that we need to move on from colosseum-based entertainments. But since that isn't going to happen, let's at least get them out of the way of compact urban culture. Go, Arden Hills!

@David

It's used eight times a year but we have to build freeways out there that will need to be maintained year-round. And Ziggy wants to build a big shopping complex, encouraging disinvestment in existing sites and infrastructure and encouraging more sprawl.

"Sustainability" may be overused but that does not invalidate its importance. Where do you want this region to be in 20 years? Dependent on gas at $8/gal or doing something different?

We are already paying a huge price for having more freeway lane-miles per capita than LA. We don't need any more!

The important thing is to get this Viking stadium issue settled so the Twins can start lobbying for money for a new stadium with a roof--Target Field is so last decade. Maybe we can impose a tax on those wealthy panhandlers?

I think someone is failing to notice the role that light rail has played in the success of the MOA. After all, one could find most of the stores at MOA in any of the other malls... before they started to die off. Obviously parking and roads were not the only factor.

"Beyond all this, I'm vehemently opposed to public subsidy for a stadium when we're laying off teachers. "

Why do we always assume the choice is between stadium or schools? Or else stadium or roads, etc., but never stadium or low upper income taxes? I cna't help noticing schools and roads have been allowed to rot even without stadiums getting built. Does anyone think canceling a new stadium will build even one school? Buy even one textbook?

The fact is spending is held down to support low upper income taxes. Stadium versus keeping the rich guy's taxes lower --- I'll take the stadium.

On another note, about the tailgating argument, two things: first, people do tailgate in lots around the dome. Second, since the public will pay most of the cost, the new stadium should include a plaza like Target Field, which is accessible to the public year-round, and it would be a simple matter to build in grills like any public park, but that works only if the Dome site is reused. A suburban football-only stadium is going to be dead most of the year. Treat it like a public park, and it doesn't have to be this place used just 10 times a year.

About forty years ago Jane Jacobs described the real estate surrounding large enterprises like Hospitals as a "border vacuum." The undulation of large numbers of unfamiliar people coming and going from universities, convention centers, stadiums and the like discourage the settlement of everyday folks who are looking to enjoy their property in quite contentment. So great is the influence of a significant structure on the surrounding neighbors, that a buffer is created.

You can see such a border around the present Metrodome.

On the one hand the city center has expressed a desire to bring mainstream, middle class development to its core; is mystified that it can't get its population to increase; would like to give tax incentives to businesses willing to hang a shingle in close proximity to rail stations. On the other hand the city wants to keep the flash and pizzazz of mega structures like a sports stadium. Is it a case of wanting the best of both-the worst of neither?

Thanks as always Steve for your common sense.

The opportunity cost thesis introduced by Mr. Holtman rests on the assumption that if a stadium weren't built in Minneapolis, there would be a substantial market for some other kind of development on the site instead that could not easily be accommodated anywhere nearby. May we all live long enough for that to be the case.

@Victoria,

It's an interesting argument but I would bet the parking lots around the Dome have more to do with the profitability of parking revenue than people being uncomfortable with strangers. Development is happening around Target Field. The difference is that Target Field parking is established and relatively compact. It integrates as well with its surroundings as parking can (which is not very well, BTW).

The urban renewal of the '60's failed because land became more profitable as parking than for development. That's directly due to our auto-oriented investment. Land Value Taxation can help undo some of that but we need a wholesale change in how we do things to survive.

@David Greene

How is Arden Hills "more sprawl?" Look at a map. We sprawled well past there some time in the mid-1970s. I see it as an opportunity to redevelop a suburban dead zone that likely will never have anything if this doesn't happen.

//Why do we always assume the choice is between stadium or schools?

It's not an assumption, it's an observation. We literally about see a legislative session end without a budget plan to keep the government running; while at the same time we'll be left with a $600 million dollar welfare program for the Vikings set up and ready to go. Disabled children and their families are being told they'll have to tighten their belts and make do with less public assistance while 56 or so millionaire athletes are promised a new stadium. This is choice we're making and have made.

Only a corrupt political system could produce a result like that. We have a government that's incapable of taking care of he people's business but is more than capable of taking of Ziggy's business.

Actually I think this whole conversation illustrates the problem with these professional sports subsidies. They completely distort civic priorities.

Instead of trying to figure out where a Vikings does the most good we rational people would be talking about how much harm these huge subsidies do to our communities. Why are we talking about the stadium's benefits? If we really wanted to to do something great for the community we would be talking how to recycle the dome area into a vibrant city center. We don't the Vikings to do that, in fact the Vikings only complicate it and make it more expensive. We're better off without the Vikings and public burden of their stadiums.

A newbie here, so I know little of the history of interaction between the Vikings and the community.

That said, and unless the Vikings’ ownership is amazingly different from every other NFL franchise ownership (save, perhaps, in arch-rival Green Bay), the welfare of the community (i.e., the Twin Cities, surrounding suburbs, the state) isn’t likely to even be on the radar of team executives, much less be something that’s of serious concern to them. There are likely to be plenty of platitudes from Mr. Wilf and his vassals about community benefits, but the only benefit in which team owners and/or investors are genuinely interested is the benefit to themselves.

Wherever it’s built, a new Vikings stadium will be a (much) shorter-lived version of the Roman Coliseum, providing the “circus” in lieu of any genuine civic or community accomplishment. Paul Udstrand is right on target about this. Professional sports in general have been transformed from a means of entertainment to a means of distracting the public from the gross disparities of our current society.

While I hope the Met Council has the backbone to nix the Arden Hills site, the aroma / stench of inevitability surrounds the whole topic. The latest Metrodome-based proposal from the city seems to me to simply add to that aura of inevitability.

Steve’s analysis seems just about correct to me. There are advantages to both locations, and there are disadvantages to both locations, so the operative question(s) ought to revolve around the issues of long-term usage and what will provide the greatest public benefit for the expenditure of public dollars, acknowledging that the public benefits will likely never actually match the expenditure of public dollars. In that context, the Arden Hills site is a loser from the get-go. That wouldn’t keep it from winning this particular race to the bottom, but in practical terms, the existing site in the city is a no-brainer from the civic perspective.

A big parking lot for cars and SUVs seems likely to be one of those “What were they thinking?” opportunities a generation from now. But then, the one thing we can say with certainty is that a generation from now is not likely to be merely an extension of the present. I’m compelled to add that Steve’s assessment of the drawbacks of a big parking lot in terms of traffic flow is right on target, based on my experiences at various big-crowd metro venues in other states. A street grid and public transit provide MUCH better movement of people in and out of the facility than does the usual network of suburban highways and access roads.

As a Minneapolis resident with zero interest in the welfare of professional football as a business, no interest in watching the sport, and no emotional investment in whether the Vikings play in Minnesota or Los Angeles, whether in-person after a tailgate or in my living room, my primary concern, especially given the aura of inevitability, is cost. I’m going to be taxed to support a private enterprise with no benefit whatsoever to me, so which stadium site will cost me less – a new stadium on the Metrodome site, with associated sales tax increase, or the Arden Hills site, which will require – require – hundreds of millions of dollars in highway and other infrastructure improvements, most of which will also end up on my tax bill, either through the MNDot budget or in some other fashion.

At least the parking revenues... and there will be tons of parking revenues... will increase the teams stadium contribution. The lion's share of the Metrodome parking either goes to the Star Tribune and soon into the city's stadium contribution.

No enough is being made about the referendum "waivers" yes "waivers" that would be required on the entertainment tax contribution and the "NEW" 0.15% city sales tax.

Rybak said the referendum requirements may be a problem at yeaterdey's news conference at the capital.... Gee, do ya think, R.T.??

@ David

I think Jacobs would say that it is not discomfort from people coming and going that causes the vacuum, but rather the lack of work the visitors contribute to the maintenance of the area. A local neighbor would call the MTC to notify them of graffiti on a bus shelter, a visitor probably would not. Neighbors may organize to help the homeless, a visitor may not. Eyes on the street-a well know Jacobs phrase-keeps crime down. If a visitor witnessed a crime, they would be more likely to report back to their neighbors that the core city is a distressed and unfriendly place.

I think you can find evidence of border vacuums around our significant structures just as Jacobs noted. Though most aren't as windswept as the blocks, even the blocks past the parking lots, that surround the dome.

@David

It's sprawl because it requires freeways that don't exist right now. The cost of those freeways is enormous, not just to build them but to also maintain them.

Mn/DOT has no plans for anything near the amount of investment needed for this "plan." No transit line is even on the proposed map for 30 years and that's as far out as we plan.

Are we going to tell North Minneapolis, "Sorry, your transit will have to wait until we can build the Vikings freeway?"

//At least the parking revenues... and there will be tons of parking revenues...

People are going have to pay to park in Arden Hills?

@Paul

Of course they will have to pay to park in Arden Hills. Why do you think Ziggy is so hot on the location?

I'm still trying to get my head around the idea of paying to park anywhere in Arden Hills. Have you been to Arden Hills? I photographed this big train collection that used to be stored up there a few years ago- inside the ammo plant... whatever.

I have to say this as far the non-stadium development plans are concerned, i.e. the shops and restaurants. Free parking has always been a big a draw for suburban developments, the difference between city and suburban shopping. I can see people paying to park for a Vikings game, but no ones ever going to go out there and pay to park to go to a restaurant or bar, or Banana Republic. Now when free parking is available everywhere else for the same stuff. The more I look at this the more I predict Ziggy's gonna want his $400 million back within five years. He'll claim he's losing money like the T-Wolves owners did and try to get his money back somehow, or move the team. Wouldn't that be a hoot. Billion dollars for a new stadium and we'd still be looking losing the team.

I decided to take a look at how hard it would be to add some sort of rail connectivity to the site. There is a freight rail line already going there, so some Northstar-like commuter rail services could be added, probably for less cost than reconfiguring the roads in the area. I'm not sure whether trains would be popular enough to be worthwhile, but the cost seems low enough that transportation planners should really take an honest look at the possibility. For $100 million, you could probably upgrade area rail lines to link the site to the Northstar suburban stops, Target field, Amtrak's current Midway station, and the St. Paul Union Depot.

http://hizeph400.blogspot.com/2011/05/train-to-arden-hills-how-about-sev...

I'd rather not have the Vikings move out to the Arden Hills site, but if they do, I'd really like them to consider transportation options that avoid expanding the highways.

Let's start with the Arden Hills site. 1) It is far from almost everything except Arden Hills. 2) It is a toxic industrial area 3) There is nothing there. It is better suited to other uses. It has freeway access, freight rail lines winding all through it, no nearby residential areas, and relative proximity to an airport. It is much better suited to industrial development. It is ridiculous to scatter sites all over so that there is only one transportation option, and that option growing more and more expensive. Mpls is the geographic centre of the Cities, has the highest population density, and has all the transportation options already in place. Sure people may want to take their SUV to the game. What of those who don't want to or can't? What of people coming from out of town to see the game? And consider this, I'm sure everyone wants a Superbowl played there. What are people going to do in Arden Hills in January or February? Continuing to spread development farther and farther away from the core of the cities is economical and environmental madness.

As for Jacobs vacuum, she makes a good point but we need to look at why the area is not developed. The Star Trib was hanging onto the land, speculating, trying to make a killing that they thought they would make when the dome was built. They are willing to sell now, probably because they are close to broke. The dome itself uses only 2/3 of the site. If it is done right, the 'vacuum' can be public space, like he plaza next to the LRT station or some of the areas around TCF. Also, things can be built inside the stadium for year round use. The World Cup stadium in Seoul has a Target-like store, food court, and multiplex cinema in it. The Metrodome site has plenty of room for hotels, condos, offices, whatever.

This is not a political issue. It is just sensible development. The Metrodome site is hands down the superior site. A (good) stadium is at least a 50 year decision. It's really hard to undo if you screw it up.