What we know about the architects seeking Vikings stadium deal

Minnesota Vikings
On Thursday night, five finalists selected to submit bids to design the new Vikings stadium arrived at the soon-to-be-bulldozed Metrodome.

The multi-year wrangle over whether to build a new Vikings stadium, where it should be, who should pay for it, how much should be spent — and by whom — concluded a couple of months ago. So now we can focus on the fun stuff. At the top of the agenda is the task of choosing a lead architect.

Only a month ago, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which the Legislature created to honcho the project, put out a request for proposals. The finalists were narrowed to five, and on Thursday night all of them turned up on the playing field at the soon-to-be-bulldozed Metrodome to tout their past achievements.

I had hoped that they would also show off their visions for the 65,000-seat facility, which is supposed to be ready for the 2016 football season. But all lips were zipped. According to Michele Kelm-Helgen, the MSFA chair, under state legislation, “architects’ bids are not public information.”

That doesn’t sound very open-government-ish to me. The RFP – requests for proposals — did after all require the firms to present a “preliminary design package.” “Well, they’re just general concepts,” she said. Nothing had been costed-out, so, she added, the authority didn’t want people “falling in love with an idea” and then getting disappointed.

Not that people don’t already have wishes. Larry Spooner, with Minnesota Momentum, a fan group, came with a batch of purple-clad friends to lobby for a retractable roof, a $40 million extra. When I pointed out that $40 million was not pocket change, one of his companions countered: “Well, they paid Brett Favre $22 million for one season.”

I looked it up, and I think it was $25 million for two seasons, but she had a point. In the crazy, run-amok finances of professional football, where you’re putting up a $975 million building for a team that will use it 10 days a year, what’s another $40 mill?

Of course, the stadium is supposed to be multi-purpose, useful for recreation, high schools, clubs and cultural events. And, Kelm-Helgen emphasized that it would have to fit in with and somehow enliven the neighborhoods surrounding it. But she a drew a line under all that, probably sending chills down the spines of the auditioning architects, when she emphasized that the authority expected the project to come in “on time and under budget.” The authority will choose the firm it thinks can do that within a few weeks.

So who are these companies, and what have they built for us lately — or for football? Here’s a rundown, in alphabetical order, the only fair way.

AECOM

Who? This architectural, engineering, building, construction, mining and city-planning behemoth based in Los Angeles is a Fortune 500 company whose annual revenues came to $8.3 billion last year. It has 45,000 employees working in 130 countries and has been named one of the world’s most ethical companies in 2011 and 2012 by Ethisphere, a think-tank that promotes high business standards.

Local connection: They’ve got three offices with 320 employees in the Twin Cities. AECOM designed Target Plaza South on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

Claims to fame: AECOM renovated both Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., and the Super Dome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina blew through. And J. Parrish, one of the team that built the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in China (he joined AECOM a couple of years ago), was present to push the company’s skills in master planning. “We’re not just about building a stadium,” he told me. “We’re about building a district.” Good thing. I live in the nabe, and it could use some help.

AECOM’s biggest recent achievement in football is the CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle, a striking building that looks a little like two giant headphones sitting across from each other. In fact, it has the reputation of being the loudest stadium in the league. Metal decks and a partial roof bounce sound down on the field, supposedly befuddling visiting opponents. In one game, the New York Giants were penalized 11 times for false starts because of the noise. For that reason alone, AECOM should get the job; the Vikings need every bit of help they can get. 

Ewing Cole

Who? Their headquarters are in Philadelphia, but they have 320 professional employees in offices in New York, D.C. and Irvine, Calif. They do architecture, planning and urban and interior design, and they’ve been designing sports facilities for 40 years.

Local connections: None I could find.

Claims to fame: Ewing Cole built the $1.7 billion Meadowlands stadium, home to both the New York Giants and the New York Jets. According to The New Yorker, its major purpose is to make money what with 9,300 club seats and luxury suites selling for $1 million a year. The New York Daily News described it as a “new gray lady” because that’s the color of its outer shell, concourse, stairs and seats. The color or lack thereof may have been a compromise for the two teams using the place. The day my son attended a Jets game there, it was draped in green. “They probably put up blue banners when the Giants play,” he said. Decks were stacked in a way, he added, that make even the lousiest seats pretty good. Monster Jumbotrons allow fans to see replays from every angle anyway — “just like on TV at home,” he said. At those prices, he should stay there.

HKS Architects Inc.

Who? A firm of 900 professionals, they’re based in Dallas but have 29 offices across the world. They were founded in 1939 and say they’ve got $12 billion in projects underway. Mark Williams, director of business development for the company’s sports and entertainment group, told us that “we understand where we are creating a project,” which I took to mean that HKS would make sure that our stadium didn’t look like every other one out there.

Local connection: Williams is from Iowa and says the first pro game he ever attended was at the Homer Dome with his dad.

Claim to Fame: HFK built the Cowboys stadium in Dallas and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The first, which initially saw action in 2010, is famous for its flying saucer form (someone called it a combo between a starship and a titanic mussel) and for its 71-foot video board which, according to the Dallas Morning News, has some fans complaining; apparently, it’s so distracting that they wind up watching it rather than action on the field. The New York Times architecture critic snootily commented: 

[I]ts enormous retractable roof, acres of parking and cavernous interiors are straight out of Eisenhower’s America, with its embrace of car culture and a grandiose, bigger-is-better mentality. The result is a somewhat crude reworking of old ideas, one that looks especially unoriginal when compared with the sophisticated and often dazzling stadiums that have been built in Europe and the Far East over the last few years. Worse for fans, its lounges and concourses are so sprawling that I suspect more than a few spectators will get lost and miss the second-half kickoff.

Of course, that’s Texas for you. Maybe, since HFK is so sensitive to place, we’ll get something with the Midwestern flavor of the Lucas Oil Stadium. According the the Indianapolis Star, the structure, with its solid brick front,  looks like “a 19th-century factory on steroids.” The paper went on to say that, while not perfect, it “successfully evokes several things: Indy’s architectural heritage and essential cultural conservatism,” and “an image of immense brawn.” A stadium that looks like a flourmill could be in our future.

HNTB Corporation

A 100-year-old architecture and engineering firm owned by its employees, they are based in Kansas City, Mo., but have offices in nearly every state. They have expertise in “design-build,” which means they do both design and construction to produce fast completions, a technique the firm used successfully in projects for the Olympics in Salt Lake City. They build roads, bridges, airports and every kind of sports venue from stadia to racetracks.

Local connection: They’ve got an office here.

Claim to Fame: They’ve won the contract to put up the new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif. The 68,500-seat facility, not due to open until next year, is expandable to 75,000 to allow the city to host events like the Super Bowl. About two-thirds of the fans will be seated in a “lower bowl,” and of course, it’s all open-air and outdoors, given the Bay Area’s fabulous climate. HNTB also constructed the Denver Broncos stadium at Mile High, which opened in 1999. From photos I’ve seen, it looks a bit like a bloated parking ramp from the outside. But you may remember it as the venue where Barack Obama delivered his 2008 acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination — at a podium in front of a set that looked like a Greek temple. Today, post-recession and European financial crisis, it would have to be a Greek hut.

Populous

Who? Also headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., but with offices in Asia and Europe, this 38-year-old firm is all sports, all the time. Scott Radecic, a principal of the firm, was on hand to tell us that he could bring a unique perspective to a Vikings project. For 12 years he was a linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs. The purpose of any stadium, he said, should be “to bring people together for a unique experience.”

Local connections: You betcha. They constructed Target Field, TCF Stadium and the Xcel Center.

Claim to Fame: Populous’ latest big hit was Olympic Stadium in London which you probably saw on TV. To get a feeling for their other works, well, you can just visit ’em.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/07/2012 - 10:59 am.

    The stadium

    The Vikings Stadium is basically a large and expensive TV studio. What’s important, at least for the folks who are paying for it, is that it look good on television, present Minneapolis as an exciting place to live in work for people who are watching Monday Night Football.

Leave a Reply