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For now, new Vikings stadium will be surrounded by ... parking lots

Vikings stadium design proposal
Minnesota Vikings
There's a great deal of hope that this grander stadium will somehow jazz up development and repopulate the blacktop deserts stretching through Elliot Park and Downtown East

Life has conferred many blessings on me, and one I give thanks for every day is living in an apartment with two views. One frames the glossy towers of downtown Minneapolis, which lift my spirits, especially at night when they're lit up like Oz.

That compensates for the other, less stirring view of the Metrodome, which sits like a derelict spaceship in an immense no-man's land of parking lots. To paraphrase Robert Frost, "Something there is that doesn't love gray walls without windows."

Soon, we'll be getting a new stadium, and given the amount of money in play, about $1 billion, there's every expectation that it will be better looking than the one we've got. (A low bar, in my opinion.)

And there's a great deal of hope that this grander stadium will somehow jazz up development and repopulate the blacktop deserts stretching through Elliot Park and Downtown East, the two neighborhoods surrounding it. Already, the Stadium Implementation Committee, a group of officials and citizens charged with making recommendations on the design plan, has laid down its vision: that the stadium "stimulate high-density, mixed-use development of varying scales and styles that is designed to be transit-oriented." In other words, let there be housing, let there be offices, let there be retail, and let there be buses and trains.

'Opportunity sites'

The other night, David Fields, development director of the Elliot Park Neighborhood Inc., (EPNI) came to a meeting of the Mill District Neighborhood Association, an informal group of condo-owners, to itemize "opportunity sites" where such development might occur. "When we're talking opportunity sites, we're talking parking lots," he says.

If that's so, there's a lot of potential for new development because surface parking lots comprise about half the acreage of the two neighborhoods and about a third of the acreage downtown Minneapolis overall. So it's not far off the mark to say that the city's future development rests in the hands of people who own surface parking lots. (It's probably time to convene a new civic improvement group called Parking Lot Owners for a Better Minneapolis.)

Fields took his audience on a block-by-block Power Point tour of the neighborhood, identifying parcels where new development could rise from the blacktop. It quickly became clear that development would not be easy. One reason: Large institutions -- Hennepin County Medical Center, North Central University and Augustana Health Care and the Star Tribune -- dominate the area and have development plans of their own.

For example, there's a nice triangular piece of land along Chicago and 14th Street where you drive around a bend and catch a stunning view of the city. It would be a great site for an apartment building -- or would have been, but North Central University, which "was hurting for parking," says Fields, nabbed it.

Then too, the Vikings have their eye on some of those lots so they can turn them into, yes, parking. Hubert's Sports Bar & Grill on 6th and Chicago, kitty-corner to the Metrodome, owns practically half a block, says Fields. The Vikings would like to buy it for a parking ramps (they're allowed 2,500 spaces) for VIPs who could "get from their cars to the stadium through a skyway, without getting wet," says Field. The team is also looking at acquiring another lot to accommodate tailgating.

No land rush

There's been no land rush yet; and some parking lot owners have little incentive to sell until there is. Because their property is unimproved, the taxes are low. Particularly in Elliott Park, where many of the lots are only a quarter or half block, "owners figure that they're making enough money," says a real estate consultant who didn't want to speak for attribution because he is involved in Viking land deals. That's less true of owners of larger lots in the Downtown East area, which often sit at least partially empty, even during business hours. They may be more open to developing their property.

The Metropolitan Council has granted Minneapolis about $43,000 to study surface parking lots and figure out how to get them developed. The tax structure will come under analysis -- perhaps there will be a proposal to raise taxes on undeveloped downtown land -- as well as strategies for prodding lot owners to do something already.  

Nagging at the back of my mind, however, is the worry that maybe that land has become parking lots because there hasn't been demand for higher uses like housing or commercial buildings. Fields asserts that a zoning designation of "light industrial" crippled the area for years. It was so restrictive, he says, "that you were lucky if you could get an abandoned warehouse to be used by an artist."

About six years ago, the zoning changed to a much more flexible B4N, or "downtown neighborhood district," which allows higher density and mixed uses. But I can think of other reasons why Elliot Park and Downtown East have been inhospitable to development. For starters, there's the butt-ugly dome sitting in the middle of everything. Then there's the tangle of freeways and ramps that has Cuisinarted the neighborhood into chunks. And finally, there are those big institutions like HCMC looming over everything.

Fields says he and EPNI were agnostic about construction of a new stadium -- "we wanted the Metrodome gone," he says -- but now he's now pleased with the arrival of a new stadium because it's bringing attention to long-neglected Elliot Park.

I'm not certain that a stadium can revitalize a neighborhood, however. Even if the new structure is more beautiful than the Taj Mahal, it won't automatically draw new development. After all, there are only about 10 NFL games a year, and even if Gophers' baseball and other athletic teams play there, the building is in use only part-time. A stadium does not need to have any particular kind of neighborhood around it to survive and prosper. It draws people from all over the metro, and even the state, not the local area, and it provides them with food, parking and chotzkies to buy when they they visit.  

More likely to alter the fate of Downtown East and Elliot Park is a possible purchase and development of four of the five lots owned by the Star Tribune. Back in December, the Ryan Companies, a local construction giant, allowed that it was in negotiations for the property on behalf of Wells Fargo. The site would become a campus for 5,000 of the bank's employees -- employees not currently in Minneapolis -- multi-family housing and a large downtown park, which the area currently lacks.

Talk about a game-changer. That could be it.

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Comments (16)

That could be it

Indeed, that last paragraph might be the most important one.

I'm not a football fan, and as a non-fan, it doesn't matter to me what the stadium looks like, or what, if anything replaces the surface parking lots around it. Whatever the redevelopment might turn out to be, it's not going to draw me downtown, either as visitor from the hinterlands of the city, or as resident.

However, and even though I've not used a bank in many years (I'm strictly a credit-union guy), the hint that Wells Fargo might be interested in those parcels, and that there might be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new Wells Fargo employees spending their days downtown, might be the best economic news I've heard since arriving here. For those people, most of them far younger than me, living a couple blocks from what most will regard as a major amenity, and with relatively easy access to both transit and interstate, the area around the stadium could, indeed, be a big draw for those who are genuine urbanists. A few thousand new residents near the stadium would not only provide the spur for a genuine park, but perhaps for all that desirable "mixed-use" development around the new coliseum… er… stadium.

No tax on unimproved property

I think the real problem here is that we don't tax land on its value, we tax the improvements that are built. It removes all incentive to turn parking lots downtown into anything. The property owner can just sit on this valuable land and do nothing with it until the right buyer comes along. It's a complete waste of space to the city. These property owners should be bleeding money like crazy every year from the tax on the land and that'll motivate them to either sell or build.

It isn't rocket science.

As long as there is a need for a family/individual to own/use a car, there will be a need to have parking for that car. If they (a family) need TWO cars, they need TWO parking spaces. So the issue is not just availability of parking, but also of what people need to live and get around.

A stadium brings in a lot of people--many drive their own vehicles and thus need parking. Sure, "Park and Ride" does work--but that merely *shifts* the problem (i.e. the parking happens "far away" rather than "nearby).

What is needed is a way to have both large volumes of available parking AND development on the land used for parking as well. That solves both problems at once--and it generates a lot of tax revenue for the city in the process.


As long as we keep subsidizing parking and driving with minimum spot requirements, subsidized lots/garages, more/bigger roads/highways/interchanges, low gas taxes, and housing subsidizing that encourages (requires) SF houses in areas that need cars to get around, this will be the case. We also, as Andrew notes, allow our cities to be places devoid of anything going on by not making people maximize development with the majority of taxation coming on the improvements - not the land. Those giant surface parking lots abut 4 streets we pave, clean, and maintain, in addition to utility connections below ground. Other uses are much more valuable in such a high intensity place.

I'm not saying no cars. I love cars and trucks. But the true cost of owning one should come forward by changing our zoning and tax codes. We also have LRT (Blue Line and CC nearing completion, with SW LRT on the way) and pretty good bus service (getting better) to give options on how to get downtown for work and events.


"What is needed is a way to have both large volumes of available parking AND development on the land used for parking as well. That solves both problems at once--and it generates a lot of tax revenue for the city in the process."

That's easy: just build a ramp underneath the building. Problem solved...

The major policy challenge

To me will be in not letting the public's investment in the new stadium go to waste by failing to make it the center of a large redevelopment plan. We know from the Metrodome that it won't happen automatically and needs planning and public support. I'm hopeful we'll get it, but we will have to wait and see.

We should absolutely consider increasing taxes on undeveloped surface parking lots as a means of providing greater incentive for development.

But Marlys is is completely right that demand will be the key. The question is, what can policy makers do to spur it?

Ms Harris, Can you give us the benefit

of your expertise to at least offer a hypothesis of how the new stadium might "stimulate high-density, mixed-use development of varying scales and styles that is designed to be transit-oriented." It is hard to think of anything less likely to do that than a rarely visited monolith of imperious scale consuming many square blocks of otherwise productive urban real estate. Or is the thought that the Metrodome presides over a wasteland just because it isn't pretty?

Gross, Gross and More Gross

Thanks for the story Marlys Harris. Nothing ever good comes from surface parking lots. Downtown Minneapolis is a giant parking lot. The idea is that people will drive downtown and work, recreate and dine. The truth is that parking lots downtown only foster a drive thru culture, where people jam in for events and bolt. It's a shame that in this day and age a huge development is moving forward without understanding how the Dome will actually interface with its neighborhood. Scary and sad Minneapolis.

Otherwise productive?

The whole point of this article, which is correct, is how the surrounding area isn't otherwise productive.

But yes, the stadium alone isn't going to do the job. We need a broader plan. Let's hope we get one.

Staduums don't stimulate the economy or promote development

The fact that stadiums create surrounding dead zones is well documented and well understood. This is fantasy not hope. The failure of the dome zone had nothing to do with zoning, the fact is that few people want to live next to a stadium or even have a business next to a stadium or arena for sooo many reasons. Would you want 60,000 people milling around your home, clogging up your streets with traffic, and tying up all the parking spots for blocks around? This does nothing for adjacent business because these people are not there to shop and they drive away non-stadium customers. Event days raise the price off everyone's parking and make shopping inconvenient. For retail the further you are away from a stadium the better. We know dropping stadiums in the middle of downtown areas is a bad idea, let's not pretend we have no experience with this.

We've been through this before, and those of use who apposed the stadium said so. Some of us will have not problem saying we told you so as all of these predicted shoes from inadequate funding to vacant space begin to drop.

Urban Masterpieces of Architecture

The population in downtown Minneapolis is growing. David Fields remarked that the Mill District Neighborhood Association meeting had an unusual number of people attending. The questions asked indicated downtown residents are becoming more educated and concerned about their neighborhood. Considering the stunning development that has occurred along the Mississippi River, there is every expectation that the Downtown East neighborhood will be beautiful. As any neighborhood has a right to do, Downtown East residents will demand more of city planners, architects and designers for urban development that will beautify the whole area and create masterpieces of architecture that complement the rest of downtown Minneapolis.

It sounds just like the Metro Dome scenario

What was called the Metro Dome Stadium was built years ago, development was supposed to happen around the stadium. Other than a giant concrete slab called the "plaza" there hasn't been any development. It sounds like the new stadium is going down the same path. The big boys have their money now, no more effort required on their part. They will make their millions just the same, with or without development.


Actually development was NOT supposed to happen around the Metrodome and, believe it or not, that was a deliberate part of the plan for getting the stadium moved from Bloomington. I chatted with John Cowles not long before he passed away and he was integral to bringing the Dome to Minneapolis. He said development in the area around the Dome was discouraged because they didn't want to create two downtown hotel districts. Doing so would take that piece of economic pie and divide it. So development in the area was ixnayed as a condition for getting the support of the hotel owners.

Add in the deplorable "urban development" of the '50s and '60s where they tore down block after block of perfectly good buildings and now we've got the situation we're stuck with today: surface parking lots.

Land owners, of course, love the lots because they're cheap to put up and rake in a ton of money. A little blacktop, some stripes, and a booth at the entrance and they can charge twenty bucks a head on game day. So yes, something needs to be done to get them off the dime and development started in the area. Let's make a beautiful city, not one defined by the car culture.

Well this tells us two things

First, stadium proponents lie. Whatever deal Cowles made (assuming the information here is reliable) with the downtown hotels at the time THAT's not what the public was told. We all believe develop was supposed to happen because THAT's what we were told at the time.

Second, stadium proponents can be very creative after the fact with explanations. The pattern of dead zones around stadiums and arenas is nation wide. They all promised otherwise, and they created dead zones. Obviously this isn't a local phenomena. Ether that or everyone is making the exact same back room deal and telling the exact same lie to the public... which isn't entirely beyond imagination. However, in the last 40 years a lot of people have studied this phenomena and it's pretty well explained, hotel deals not withstanding.

Urban masterpieces

Kathleen, the more the neighborhood looks into this stadium, the more they're going to regret it's existence. In some ways this is the worst possible timing for a new stadium at that location, it will stunt housing development.

I agree

Those were the words of the Implementation Committee, not mine. I frankly don't see how that end will be achieved, except maybe by fiat.