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Design prof Thomas Fisher wants stadium to produce ‘vibrant’ new Minneapolis area

Minnesota Vikings

Urban open spaces succeed or fail depending on what's around them. So, the area connected to the stadium must have commercial activity.

An immense and very expensive development in the heart of Minneapolis is about to get under way. I'm talking about the new Vikings stadium, of course.

Just to remind you, it will cost $975 million, about half underwritten by taxpayers and, if planned land acquisition deals go through, will cover several acres stretching from Fifth to 11th avenues south and Third to Sixth streets. Given its prominence, I thought I would periodically check on its progress.

To get a sense of how the stadium might change the local area — and the city — I talked to Thomas Fisher, a professor and dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. He was appointed to serve as co-chairman of the city’s Stadium Implementation Committee, along with David Wilson, a director at Accenture.

The assignment: to make "recommendations on the design plans submitted for the stadium, and stadium infrastructure, and related improvements."

The group, which hasn't yet had its initial meeting, has no say in the design of the stadium itself, just "the skin out," says Fisher. But, he adds, "When they talk about our having a say on the skin, it shouldn't just be the color of the brick but how the stadium connects to or interacts with the city around it."

He sees the project as an opportunity to create a vibrant new area. Here are his comments on the issues he believes are important: 

Not repeating history

The committee's preliminary conversations, and the directive from the mayor, have been around not repeating the mistakes made with the Metrodome and the local area. Back when the Metrodome was built, there was a lot of concern that it would generate a second downtown that would draw people and energy from the one that was already there. And planners didn't want to set up an entertainment district to rival what was developing in the warehouse district. So there was a conscious effort not to encourage development.

[As a result], the Metrodome is this big blank-walled bunker. There's no life around it. The city now recognizes that was a mistake. If we just build a bigger version of the Metrodome, we'll have failed.

Creating a place for everyday use

The area [around the stadium] has to be appropriate for game days. But we have to remember there are only eight games a year; even if the team is very successful, there will be maybe 10 games. The question is: What about the other 355? 

Football stadiums are really suburban-style buildings, with big parking lots around them for tailgating. The challenge here in Minneapolis is to build an urban football stadium: It'll be downtown with lots of people around it all the time. We want the plazas and other kinds of spaces that handle the crowds on game day to become places where people are congregating, eating, recreating, doing all kinds of activity not only on game day but for the entire year.

We also have to ask: What do the people living near the stadium need and want? They have Gold Medal Park and Elliot Park, which are both traditional parks. Maybe they don't need traditional parks. But perhaps they could use a space that we don't really have much in the city, treed plazas and open spaces that have recreational or art activities going on. 

What’s needed

Urban open spaces succeed or fail depending on what's around them. So, the area connected to the stadium must have commercial activity. We have to figure how activities related to game day can be utilized year round.

Thomas Fisher
Thomas Fisher

Concessions in stadiums, for example, normally face inward. But could they face outward so that people could use them as restaurants and stores even when there isn't a game? 

[One way to make sure those commercial enterprises succeed] is to increase the density so there are enough office workers and residents to support them. One of the interesting paradoxes coming here from the East Coast is that I'm always amazed that people are afraid of density. Yet they want all the things that density provides. They want light rail, they want lots of interesting restaurants, lots of interesting things happening, but they don't want density.

Well, density well done is how you make a great city. It doesn't necessarily mean everyone is living 50 stories in the air. Paris is a very dense city, but it's not full of high-rise buildings. So we don't have to build high-rises, but we definitely need the kind of density that will generate street life that people will want and that will attract more people to come.

How to produce development 

The transit station is going to be key. Two lines [the Hiawatha and Central Corridor LRTs] will cross at the stadium. Anybody coming from St. Paul who wants to go to the airport, and anybody coming from the airport wanting to go to St. Paul is going to have to get off at that station. There's probably going to be a major bus terminus near the stadium, too.

Stations generate lots of commercial activity. Where people are changing trains, there will have to be dry cleaners, places to buy coffee and pick up newspapers. People want to live near stations, have their offices by them. This is a city that has not had a train system for a long time. So people don't understand that train lines are not where they are because of office buildings. Office buildings are where they are because of the trains. You put in the infrastructure and the development follows.

A recreational center

We also ask whether there's room for an entertainment district that isn't competing with the entertainment businesses around Target Field. Maybe, instead of bars where you watch games on TV, we could have entertainment in the area involving physical activity: soccer fields and tennis courts and volleyball. Because the area is at the connection of the two light rail lines, kids could get there from both cities. They could utilize the stadium much more intensively.

Another thought: The Minneapolis campus of the University nearby has a population of 30,000. But it has very few recreational fields. If we created more recreational opportunities around the stadium, could there be a way for the university students to utilize them? And develop mentoring relationships with inner city kids? There are a lot of things we can try to do with a district like this.


 It's anticipated that a fairly high percentage of people will be coming to the stadium by rail. So tailgating will have to be reimagined. Could there be distance-tailgating, maybe in a parking lot down by the Mall of America? A half hour or 45 minutes before the game, people would get up on the light rail and go to the stadium.

I've also been wondering about vertical tailgating. There's a really interesting parking garage built recently in Miami. It's not your typical low-ceiling garage. It has high ceilings and contains restaurants and other activities. Could we build a garage that serves for tailgating as well as parking? And have restaurants and other retail establishments interwoven in it? We have opportunities now to rethink things.  


Studies have shown that people are already using their cars less. [In the new digital economy we're shifting into] they don't need to travel to where the goods are, as they did in the past, because they can order stuff over the Internet. So we should design garages that can be reused. I'm a big advocate of not having sloped-floor garages. If you build flat floor garages with a circular ramp and with a little bit higher headroom, you could convert them to offices or apartments if they become obsolete — instead of tearing them down. 


The mayor quite rightly wants us to think about making connections from the stadium to the river, to the housing area around Gold Medal Park, to downtown, to Eliot Park, to Cedar-Riverside — and to the West Bank of the University. We've done a study [of the I-35W, Washington Avenue interchange] and found that there's quite a lot of taxable land [around I35] that is underutilized. Those sites will get built upon and developed, and then we'll also see more pedestrian access [from various neighborhoods], bridges over all that spaghetti of highways to connect the university and the downtown.

[It would be great if we could] bring people together from all the different neighborhoods, Elliot Park, Cedar-Riverside, which have populations of color, people living around the river, and then the university community use the place together.

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Comments (8)


The problem here is that this strategy has little to do with how sports stadiums actually work. The stadium will attract 50,000 people 8 times per year, mostly on Sunday afternoon. Those people will, at best, spend an hour before and after the game in businesses around the stadium. For an "entertainment district" this is death. It means scaling your business for a large number of people for very brief periods in order to take advantage of the huge crowds. It is expensive to do that and often the results are not very attractive for more intimate groups.

In short, stadiums provide a very poor basis for economic development in the surrounding community. In fact, the huge crowds with facilities scaled to serve them actually make the area less attractive for businesses catering to "regular" customers. This, not the nature of the Metrodome's design or goals of city planners, is what made the area around the Metrodome a dead zone.

Moreover, light rail is a lousy mode for moving large number of people to a stadium for an event where everyone arrives and leaves at the same time. The train capacities can't be easily scaled. It may be that the intersection of the two light rail lines will spur development. But the stadium is not an opportunity for creating good urban design. It is a problem to be mitigated.

I am so reassured by this

I am so reassured by this article! I've been worried about a repeat of the under-use of the Dome surroundings, or whether it'll be used as a chance to knit parts of the city back together. I'll follow this planning closely, and am more hopeful now than I've ever been about eastern downtown. Please bring more updates!

Stadium Design is Integral

It seems to me that the biggest problem with creating public and private spaces around the stadium is the stadium itself. This thing is going to be gigantic and it's a real challenge to build something human-scale around that.

I believe Target Field has worked out well primarily because of the ballpark's design. It nestles well into the neighborhood and does not project a formidable facade to residents and visitors. It blends well.

Unless they build the Vikings stadium into the ground, I don't think that will be possible with this project. There will be a big formidable building right in the middle of a place where we want to encourage activity. There will likely not be street-level windows and even if there are, there will rarely be people inside the building to use them.

I really like the idea of creating some recreation space. That could be used to lessen the building's impact by creating some pleasant open space between it and other development. We do need more recreation space in the city, especially downtown. I can imagine it might be quite fun to go to a game and watch the kids play hockey for a bit before entering the stadium.

development around the new football stadium

One of the (many) disturbing things about this whole discussion and process is this;
There already is development in that part of town, and it's the kind of development that brings real jobs and real community benefits. Within 6 blocks of the new site are the University of Minnesota, (at least Prof. Fisher recognizes his employer as part of the neighborhood) the rapidly growing North Central University, the booming arts area toward the river-Guthrie, Mill City Museum, Open Book Building- and the rapidly expanding medical complex anchored by HCMC. Not as flashy as a shiny football stadium perhaps, but education, health care, and the arts are real community assets and create real living wage jobs.

How will the stadium (Cargill Stadium? Honeywell Field?) aid the already existing growth and how will it interact with the workers and residents in those nearby areas? Answer please: Prof. Fisher? Marlys? Ted Mondale? Lester Bagley? RT? Mark Dayton?

Re: Development around the stadium

Yes, there's a lot going on in the neighborhood around the stadium I know because I live there. But I will tell you that it's not enough. Periodically, stores and eateries go under or move because pedestrian traffic is minimal. And although Washington Avenue carries a lot of car traffic, most people are not driving slowly enough to notice, wow, there's an interesting little store or restaurant that I ought to investigate. You need more foot traffic. For example, a dress store just opened on the ground floor of our building, but I almost never see anybody in it. You're only going to notice it if you walk by. And very few people walk by.

I believe that when the Central Corridor LRT is complete, more people will use it and the Hiawatha to commute to the area, where, you're right, there are lots of offices—though not all of them are currently leased. That will spur commerce. You'll need lunch places and shoe stores and barbershops and beauty salons and gift shops and drug stores to cater to commuters.

There are lots of difficulties in doing this right. But I'm encouraged that we have a committee thinking about more than just plunking a big fat stadium down in the middle of a piece of tarmac. Let's hope it all works.

TV studio

The Vikings Stadium is basically a billion dollar TV studio. It's important to design it in such a way that it looks good on television.


I do think we need to reconcile ourselves to the fact that not a lot of development will be generated by a building that's only used meaningfully 8 Sunday afternoons a year.

The Stadium's "skin"

The outside of the stadium on the side that faces towards downtown should be lined with:
- The Vikings Hall of Fame
- A Vikings-themed restaurant
- A Vikings sports memorabilia shop
All at street level and open to the public year around so that the stadium contributes some foot traffic and activity, year around.

p.s., Ross is right: We can't move 65,000 people from Bloomington tailgate lots to the stadium site in the hour before the game. However, I do like the idea of designing parking ramps near the stadium that are suitable for tailgating on Sundays.