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An insider’s view of how the Vikings stadium design came together

We wanted entrances and exits in all directions
Minnesota Vikings
We wanted entrances and exits in all directions, so that no neighborhood would be looking at a back door, yet have the primary façade face downtown and the plaza.

In governance speak, the ad hoc People’s Stadium Implementation Committee spent 10 months writing a vision and principles statement to give HKS Architects guidance in designing the best urban football stadium in the country at the core of a vibrant place.

But as I’ve sat through committee meetings since last August it seemed to me more like the kids planning a kick-ass party with an awesome gift registry. Instead of flatware and martini glasses we wanted plenty of green space and bicycle racks. At first blush, it looks as though we’ll get much of what we’ve asked for.

At the request of Mayor R.T. Rybak, I’m the sample resident in the group of 26 people on the Implementation Committee for the (fill in naming rights here) Stadium. The committee appears to be pretty well balanced in terms of gender and ethnicity. We community organizers, small- and medium-sized business owners, five city council members, the mayor, a county commissioner, a sample Vikings’ fan and a smattering of architects have spent a fair amount of energy trying to figure out what Minnesotans want in their stadium.

It’s important to note that there was no committee like this one when the Metrodome was built. In fact, the visionaries, who probably met at the Minneapolis Club, didn’t want development around the stadium for fear that it would distract people away from the core downtown with its burgeoning restaurant and theater district. They wanted fans to drive in, tailgate in the vacant lots and drive out again. Until fairly recently city ordinance discouraged retail development in Downtown East. What a difference a few years make.

Under state charter the city has no say about design on the inside of the stadium. That’s up to the Vikings and the Metropolitan Sports Authority. Our purview is from the skin of the building out.

Lots of ideas

We had plenty of ideas. We wanted it to be bold, iconic, cosmopolitan. We wanted it to be porous, meaning that people could access it even when there were no events, perhaps through food stations or a sports store. We wanted entrances and exits in all directions, so that no neighborhood would be looking at a back door, yet have the primary façade face downtown and the plaza.

We wanted it to be pedestrian, bike and mass transit friendly, meaning well-lit walking and bike paths, with easy connection to the light rail. We wanted all visitors to be to walk all the way around the stadium.

We knew there was a possibility of a plaza, although we – or at least most of us – didn’t know specifics of the plan for the Ryan development for office, residential and retail, with it’s two 20-story towers. Nonetheless, we said what we wanted there, too. We wanted the plaza to value quality over quantity in size, design and materials. We wanted it to be enticing for families, athletes, exercisers and community year round. We wanted public art, trees and good use of daylight and sun, especially in the winter.

We wanted it to guarantee that parking would be available not just for stadium users, but the entire area.

Oh, and we wanted it all to be energy and water efficient at the lowest possible cost, with the ability to recycle anything organic and offer local, fresh foods that reflect the cultural diversity of the state.

The whole wish list, with bibliography, is six single-spaced pages long, written with a consistent voice that would impress anyone who has ever tried to write by committee.

To see it, go to City of Minneapolis People’s Stadium website. You’ll also find schematics and all kinds of other interesting items there.

Since the unveiling of the stadium plan on May 13 and the Ryan development for the plaza on May 14, the most popular conversation starter has been, “Well, then, what do you think of the stadium?”

I gotta say it’s growing on me, especially after a committee meeting May 17, where we began to examine the plan in the context of our wish list. It looks like we’ll be getting most of what we wanted. It’s bold, iconic and cosmopolitan, much like the exteriors of the Guthrie Theater, the Walker, the Weisman Art Museum, to name a few. By moving loading docks under the structure HKS made it a 360-degree building, snubbing no one. The shape and outside materials take on the character of the Mississippi River. The 90-foot glass pivoting doors opening toward the downtown skyline combined with all kinds of venting and air circulation on nice days will give the feeling of outdoors to anyone inside. Caps and sun block will be de rigueur.

Lingering issues

There are a few issues to work out. Although the word tailgating does not appear in the wish list, Rybak has said the almost nine-acre park adjacent to the stadium would welcome Vikings fans in all their purple glory. The problem is Vikings fans like their baked beans served from the tailgate of a truck that has hauled coolers, a grill, lawn chairs and a bean-toss game to the site where it can stay parked during the game. No one’s going to be able to drive a Ford Explorer, or any other vehicle, on the lush lawns for that bona fide tailgating experience.  

The wish list asks the architects to site the stadium so that no street closures are required. They have done that. But the current drawings show Portland Avenue South stopping at the edge of the Ryan development park at 4th Street South then picking up again at 5th Street South. Because Park and Portland are Hennepin County roads they can only be closed by the county board, which is unlikely.

Then there’s the matter of birds. Will eagles guided by the nearby Mississippi River as a flyway unwittingly smash into the sky high iconic peak? Will the super plastic stadium roof become a filthy mess? Anyone who has tried to keep a skylight clean knows that what birds fly droppings do too.

These are some of the questions we on the committee talk about in our meetings. We have a couple of months to compare the actual design of the stadium and surrounding area against our wish list, then tell the Minneapolis City Council whether we’ve got the right stuff for a party we hope will last decades. Stay tuned.

Judith Yates Borger has covered a variety of topics for MinnPost and is author of the Skeeter Hughes, News Reporter, Mystery series. Her third book is due out this fall.

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Comments (15)

Stadium

I wonder if anyone has looked at the issues of the reflection of sunlight. I have seen buildings that have driven neighbors crazy because of it.

Reflective light

I don't recall any discussion about reflective light, but I will bring it up at the next meeting. Thanks for the question, Stan.

People's stadium

Does it have relatively inexpensive seats which will be available to the public. Will it be inexpensive to operate so it can be used by someone other than the Vikings?

What does it mean to be iconic? Is the Guthrie iconic? Is Lambeau Field? Wrigley Stadium? Old Trafford? How much money goes into a stadium to make it iconic as opposed to making it a good place to watch a football game?

Will it really be a people's stadium? Or will it be a corporate stadium where people serve as stage decoration, possibly by wearing funny hats?

From the skin out

Our committee can only speak to the stadium from the skin out. The inside is under the purview of the Vikings and the Sports Authority.

The skin

"Our committee can only speak to the stadium from the skin out. The inside is under the purview of the Vikings and the Sports Authority."

And that's the problem. The people's stadium where the stadium is outside the purview of the people.

Running and Rollerblading?

The stadium was sold based on how many events it can host. Will it continue to be able to host running and rollerblading like the Metrodome has done for decades?

yes.

The current plans call for rollerblading and running to continue just as at the Metrodome. I say current plans only because this is still in some flux, but I don't see any reason why either activity will be cut.

Other events

The notion that the stadium would serve multiple purposes is a smokescreen designed to obscure the reality that we are putting a billion bucks into a facility that will be meaningfully used only 8 times a year. There is certainly no shortage of stadium space in the Twin Cities. We have already built to big time facilities that stand empty much of the time. There are all sorts of other playing fields around town. In terms of big events, they compete against each other driving down prices. We didn't need a new stadium, as such, what we needed, or at least were missing was an NFL Stadium, which really is only suitable for the unique needs of the NFL. I have no doubt there will be an effort to put events in the new building in an effort to persuade Minnesotans that they got value for their money, but those efforts will do little more than create an illusion of utility.

Name for new Vikings Stadium

I'm certain it'll be '3M______', or 'BestBuy ______ ,' but if they could call it 'Valhalla,' that'd be sweet.

Ms. Yates Borger: The majority of folks

Were opposed to this stadium, and some of us consider it a profound betrayal of the public welfare in every way. You describe the committee as "kids planning a kick-ass party with an awesome gift registry." The problem is that this is exactly how Mr. Dayton, Mr. Rybak, Mr. McDonnell and the others approached this, giddy with idol-worship and rent-taking and laying waste to notions of leadership, mature governance, fiscal propriety and the public trust. I will not deny you your excitement, but please respect the principled opponents by not presuming we will be seduced to join the "party" by the massive amount of lipstick being applied to this porcine monument.

I was opposed to the stadium, too

I was also opposed to the stadium. I saw it as lousy public policy. I'd much rather see the money go to state infrastructure, education, and/or the Mayo Clinic or a dozen other more appropriate needs. That said, the stadium is a done deal, so I think we all need to move on and make it the best we possibly can.

Ms Borger, my respect to you for replying.

Those who write on MinnPost should return to engage with those who comment constructively, but few do. Appreciate it.

I also appreciate the value of trying to minimize the damage, but "make it the best we possibly can" is a truism that isn't always true. We surely know by now: Every penny spent on lipstick is going to come out of the public pocket - probably the pocket of we Minneapolis folks known collectively to the Vikings organization and the legislature as "Mikey" (you remember the Life cereal commercial - "Give it to Mikey, he'll eat anything").

The stadium - preempting complex, sustainable, value-adding organic urban growth - is the worst possible land use for these many square blocks of urban property. From the beginning, the proponents with their watercolor sketches have subconsciously sold the notion that great hordes of folks will flock to this vast plaza surrounding the VIkings monolith at all hours of the day to frolic, engage with their fellow citizens, and reap the benefits to their quality of life. We have been told that nothing raises commercial and residential real estate values so much as lying within the shadow of a football stadium where there is automotive mayhem eight Sundays a year and otherwise empty urban space. Of course no foundation was ever given for these propositions, theory and experience reject them, and we shouldn't invest based on them. Another truism is "don't throw good money after bad." So spending carefully justified mitigation dollars is OK, but let's not go any further in hock trying to instantiate a fantasy.

With all due respect...

I believe all of you were an attentive and responsible group who were trying their best to do the "right" thing. IMHO, you all missed. I was hoping for something that would not look dated and flashy by the time it took to build it. I was hoping for a style that would better represent the values of our community.

Healthy impact beyond the entertainment economy

Thank you for being a part of the Stadium Implementation Committee that created the aspirational Vision and Principles Statement available at the People’s Stadium website. Thanks also for this description of how citizen's voices were included in decision-making about the stadium's design and operation for the 355 days a year the NFL doesn't play there.

The Vision and Principles show you did consider the various ways the stadium could impact and improve community health and well-being rather than simply maximizing profits and salaries; but as always actions speak louder than words. (Insert glass house joke here;)

Lessons fromthe European Healthy Stadia Conference 2013 would also help to make it world class, but you have already included many of the best practices they describe.

Thanks

Thanks, Ray.Being part of the implementation committee has been a learning opportunity I continue to enjoy.