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Minneapolis should reinvent tailgating to avoid Metrodome mistakes

Sam RockwellSam Rockwell

All of the concept drawings of the now-approved Vikings stadium proposal include large swaths of dedicated tailgating lots near the stadium. If Minneapolis builds these lots, the new facility will simply repeat the development mistakes of the area surrounding the Metrodome.

The city can do better. Minneapolis should reinvent tailgating so that it complements, rather than detracts from, the urban environment.

Although tailgating has some positive features – it is a big community gathering in a public space, an event during which people actually use the public realm – tailgating’s destructive qualities outweigh its benefits.

Scars on landscape, except for 10 times a year

To begin, tailgating only occurs before 10 home football games a year. Thus, if the city designs and designates zones for tailgating and not for any alternate community uses, these zones will be scars on our urban landscape for an overwhelming majority of the year. One only need look to existing downtown surface parking lots to confirm this.

Second, tailgating as it exists today is an inherently car-centric activity. This makes sense in light of the fact that modern tailgating dates to the 1950s, a car-centric anti-city decade. The auto show was born in the 1950s. Highway planner Robert Moses’ influence on American cities peaked in the 1950s. In 1954, Minneapolis’ last streetcar line closed. And in 1955, Minneapolis leaders concocted a plan to raze one third of downtown Minneapolis, including the old Gateway Park and the Metropolitan Building.

These 1950s decisions and developments helped gut Minneapolis. The 1950 Census recorded an all-time-high 521,000 Minneapolis residents, but by 1960 Minneapolis’ population was in a tailspin. The city’s current population hovers under 390,000.

Rebuilding urban spaces

Minneapolis is now rebuilding its urban spaces. The region is developing a light-rail system. The mayor is pushing for a new streetcar network. The Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District are pushing for walkable public green space and street-level retail. Do we really want to plan urban spaces that hark back to the car-focused age when America undermined its cities?

If Minneapolis politicos are serious about developing the city they must reinvent tailgating. Minneapolis’s future tailgating must fit within public spaces that are designed and available for use every day of the year and that attract a range of users to the center city.

Designate existing parking, build a park ...

Minneapolis could do the following to reinvent tailgating in downtown:

  • Designate existing Target Field and Target Center parking as Vikings parking on game days. This would (1) take advantage of existing garages, and (2) avoid using valuable land in the urban core for new parking garages and lots.
  • Run a free game day “circulator” bus from parking garages to the Vikings stadium area as well as make the LRT and city buses free to Vikings ticket holders.
  • Build a park just west of the stadium. Place tables, chairs, and benches in the park; create large useable spaces such as soccer fields and volleyball courts; and provide facilities for lawn games. This park could be a tailgating center on game days. In order to facilitate car-less tailgating the park must provide a large number of public grills (perhaps some could be temporary) and must provide an opportunity to buy beer and other beverages at a reasonable price (perhaps beverage distributors could park semi trucks on site and set up folding-table bars as they do at music festivals).
  • Encourage development of restaurants and bars around the park, and allow food trucks to operate on game day. This would give fans who do not wish to grill an opportunity to purchase food while they use the park. Furthermore, if the park is a usable and attractive place, surrounding restaurants should attract lunch-time and after-work crowds during the work week.

Enjoying a community of fans

The ideas outlined above would change the way football fans tailgate. Notably, tailgaters would not have access to their cars and would therefore not be able to bring their own grills and coolers of beer. However, if the city designed the park well, tailgaters would be able to continue the tradition of eating and drinking with a community of fans before a game.

If Minneapolis wants to be a nationally competitive city, every part of downtown should be designed for constant use. That means designing public spaces – including those around the new Vikings stadium – for football fans and non-football fans alike.

Sam Rockwell, a Minneapolis native, has worked on land use and transportation policy in government and non-profits in New York and the Twin Cities. He is currently finishing law school.

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Comments (6)

Designing A Great City

"If Minneapolis politicos are serious about developing the city they must reinvent tailgating. "

If Minneapolis is serious about developing the city as a great place to live, not just to work and recreate, they need to stop focusing on serving those visitors and their automobile centered lifestyles. Tailgating may add to the football fan experience, but why is catering to football fans a priority for the residents of Minneapolis? Most of the people who buy tickets live somewhere else. What's mistaken is the very idea that Minneapolis has some responsibility to provide facilities for tailgating.

Rather than expecting people to drive downtown and then take a bus to the stadium, why not set up gameday park and rides at suburban locations? Add a fee to every ticket to pay for them.

Since most Vikings fans do not buy tickets, they watch the game on television, the city ought to focus on attracting those non-ticketholders downtown for a gameday experience. That kind of effort could attract fans for every game, adding an additional 10 gameday experiences to attract people to the area. Rather than focusing on tailgaters who will bring their own food and beverages and then disappear when the game starts, focus on people who are coming downtown for the experience and will patronize local businesses.

Holes in your suggestions

While I agree with almost all of your suggestions, I just see a lot of kinks that would need to be worked out, before this could even begin to float.

Forcing people to use public transportation to get to and from the stadium is actually a brilliant idea. I have been to many Twins and Vikings games at the Metrodome, and it is complete mayhem. With all the extra vehicle and foot traffic, it is very difficult to move around. So minimizing the number of vehicles travelling in and out of the area, as well as having designated drop off points, would be extremely advantageous. And it would also bring extra revenue into existing parking garages, that have minimal use, once the baseball season is done with.

I also absolutely agree with your philosophy on the tailgating area. It makes absolutely zero sense to take an entire area of the city, and make it unusable for 355 days a year. Your park idea is wonderful. It would be extremely nice to have an area like that, so close to the stadium.

But here are the issues that I see, with both of these ideas:

1) You talk about providing grills for people to do their "tailgating" right in the park. Great... but how exactly are they going to get their food there? Are they going to be bringing coolers onto the buses and LRT? Seems that would make things crowded. And more so, what are they going to do with those coolers, when they are ready to head to the stadium for the game?

2) How long are the public transit drivers, and non-football fans going to put up with this? I can't tell you the number of times that I have seen someone drink too much, get all amped up, and get out of hand at some kind of sporting event. It happens all the time. And especially with football games. But I have never had to be stuck in the same vehicle with that person. So I just don't know how long people are going to be able to handle that.

3) Is it physically or financially possible to transport that many fans to and from the games? There would have to be a lot of very careful planning, in order to make that go smoothly. I mean, I don't have actual numbers of any sort, but thousands (fans needing transporting) divided by even 100 (capacity of transport vehicle) is 20, 30, maybe even 40 trips back and forth. And that is just to get one way.

I don't know. Those are just the few ideas that popped into my head, as I was reading your article. And if there is a way to work through those issues, and make those ideas a reality, then great. I would love to see it happen. I think it would be a wonderful thing for everyone involved.

Great Idea

I was equally disappointed that the stadium proposal had as much "traditional" tailgate space as it did. I understand that the Vikings view this as a revenue stream (and one of the primary reasons they favored the Arden Hills site for so long was because of the space it had for parking lots). Equally as surprising was that this plan was at near complete odds with the extensive Minneapolis Downtown 2025 vision laid out that includes walkable streets, parks, much fewer surface lots, and retail (as noted in your post).

The reality is that people need to change their mindsets and expectations. You point out great ideas on how to use existing parking infrastructure for those that continue to choose to drive. A/B/C garages and many others on the western edge of the city and CBD provide plenty of parking options. By the time the stadium opens, the Central Corridor should be complete and the SWLRT should be underway. Managing other public transport (BRT, commuter rails, etc) from suburbs to around the stadium on gameday needs to be efficient. People have a justifiably negative view of taking the LRT after Twins or Vikings games - I've done it on relatively light Twins attendance days and it was still a cluster of thousands of people waiting, slow (waited 2 trains to get on), and expensive - relative to one car for 4 people at $15-20, 4 LRT tickets both ways (games are longer than 2.5 hours, or buy the all-day ticket for more) is about the same.

However, when people think of "tailgating" - they don't think of anything but having their car right there with them. Makes sense (given the term) considering you usually want to bring food, games, footballs, drinks, chairs, and more to enjoy. This is where people need to change expectations for what it means to tailgate. People need to become comfortable using public equipment like benches, chairs, grills, etc to have a good time. People also need to recognize that tailgating in a lot isn't the only way to enjoy pregame festivities. "Bargating" can be just as good. Look at the area surrounding Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley, Camp Randall (Madison), and any other urban stadium. You can have an excellent atmosphere by opening up certain streets, allowing more sidewalk/street tables at restaurants, etc.

In return, the city and Vikings need to provide help:

- The city needs to relax public drinking laws for gamedays in certain parks and streets. They already do this for the Dome plaza before games and parking lots, why not for parks? Be creative and allow local grocery, liquor stores and/or bars to set up shop near the parks to sell goods for use on the day of
- Minneapolis will need to provide ample seating, space, equipment for use. This can be permanent (like park benches, and fixed grills) or ones for rent on gameday.
- Metro transit will need to be successful at getting people there for cheap or free. The LRT already does this for T-Wolves games: http://metrotransit.org/TransitArticles/Story.aspx?pageid=247&mid=395&ar... why not for Vikings? The economic benefits for downtown having retail, business, residential vs open parking spaces far outweigh the ticket fares for gamedays alone.
- Mpls/St Paul also manage to get thousands (to the tune of 100-200k per day) of people to the State Fair using many buses from remote locations. And people do it!! Wow! I recognize the peak travel of 60k Vikings fans is different than 100-200k people scattered throughout the day, but exit times at the State Fair have peak travel. And I can honestly say waiting in a car to get out of downtown events takes just as long and is just as taxing on the street grid as a combination of public transport is.
- Biking. Create an infrastructure of safe biking lanes that lead to the stadium from all directions, cap it off with ample bike storage. I recognize in the winter this becomes less feasible. We're still talking 7-8 games that have bikeable weather.
- Vikings should provide storage for people who have convinced themselves they need to bring their own stuff to tailgate. Charge for it. The people use public space (parks, streets, etc) to tailgate and the Viking reap the revenue with storage lockers, without having to buy and maintain the land for parking.
- Just as building should be mixed-use (office, retail, residential), so should streets. Don't rule out car tailgating entirely, make some streets open for it. The city and Vikings org should commit itself to the most diverse set of options for enjoying gameday. Turning some streets in to mini parking lots 10 times a year can bring in revenue for the city (helping offset police and maintenance costs for gameday).

Land in downtown Minneapolis (and St Paul) is far too precious a commodity to use on more surface parking that is used 10x a year (perhaps more for playoffs and other large events held in the stadium). But the area around the new stadium could be so much more, and big time events (Superbowls, NCAA Final Fours, Big Ten Championships, etc) will begin demanding this as time moves on. Rebuilding the core of Mpls is too important to allow traditional tailgating to remain a driving factor. As the first poster said.. build a good enough environment downtown on gamedays that doesn't depend solely on cars parking and tailgating, and you may increase the number of people who come to watch the games in bars and help enhance the city itself.

Excellent article

Good ideas, interesting history and well written! Thanks.

No big surface lots!!!

The stadium bill was passed mostly with votes from outstate legislators. If they wanted tailgating facilities, they should have voted for the Arden Hills site. We who live in the city don't want that stuff here. It does nothing for local business, since tailgaters bring their own food and beverages. Then the city's taxpayers are stuck cleaning up the inevitable mess. Maybe most tailgaters are responsible and clean up after themselves but not all.

I like the idea of State Fair-type special gameday buses. People can tailgate in remote locations where there are already surface lots, then ride to the game without clogging up downtown streets.

The Stadium Advisory Committee ...

Toss out the whole lot of them. The Stadium Advisory Committee should have one member: this guy, Sam Rockwell. He nails it.