New Vikings stadium: High drama at Stadium Commission

Ellerbe Beckett's rejected design for a "reconstructed" Metrodome.
Ellerbe Becket
Ellerbe Beckett’s rejected design for a “reconstructed” Metrodome.

The topic was simple enough: Which architect and which construction company would be crowned by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission — with an A-OK from the Vikings — to begin to plan a new pro football stadium, price-tag unknown?

This is the design and cost analysis that, presumably, the commission and the team would bring to the Legislature in January, what with the Vikings’ lease at the Dome set to expire in 2011.
Nothing is simple in Stadium World.

The atmosphere at a special meeting of the Sports Facilities Commission this morning grew tense, the scene ugly and the language personal.

The agency that owns and operates the Metrodome picked an architect — HKS of Dallas — and a construction firm — Twin Cities-based Mortenson — to start the process of figuring out how to “reconstruct” the Dome . . . whatever “reconstruct” really means.

(It probably means saving some of the concrete and a wall or two, and certainly the site . . . but time will tell.)

Before the pair of 5-2 votes to choose HKS and Mortenson were taken, longtime commission member Paul Thatcher threw a very public tantrum before a hushed audience in the packed conference room in the bowels of the 27-year-old Dome.

He preferred that Ellerbe Beckett, which was founded in Minneapolis and maintains offices here, be selected as the architect instead. He preferred that a partnership that included Twin Cities-based Kraus-Anderson be picked as construction manager.

‘Outrageous, outrageous’
Thatcher, a burly man with a booming voice and cutting words, took his defeat hard.

“We got here through the accommodation of deceit, incompetence and contempt,” Thatcher said, referring to his view of how the commission staff came to recommend HKS and Mortenson after a lengthy evaluation process.

He banged the conference table, once, twice, three times. He shouted, “Outrageous, outrageous,” one, twice, thrice.

It was pretty good theater, unless you were Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Roy Terwilliger and top commission staffers Bill Lester and Steve Maki. For those three, it was an embarrassing berating in front of architects, construction executives, lobbyists, Vikings front office personnel and other commission employees of seismic proportions.

And when Ray Waldron, a commission member and longtime AFL-CIO leader, interrupted Thatcher and wondered where he was headed with his diatribe and questioning “the personal attacks,” Thatcher didn’t back down.

“I shall not be silenced,” he said.

After Thatcher’s 40 minute diatribe, Terwilliger the former Republican state senator from Edina, said wryly, “My grandchildren still love me.”

Thatcher, 73, is a local businessman of some prosperity and a longtime Democratic Party activist and contributor.

He believes that Ellerbe — which first developed a plan 18 months ago to “reconstruct” the Dome — has the experience to design a next generation dome.

With its origins in the Twin Cities, he warned his commission colleagues that the Legislature would look askance at a Vikings stadium design by an out-of-state firm.

He also argued against Mortenson because, he said, the company that is building the Gophers’ TCF Bank Stadium and the Twins’ Target Field doesn’t bring much experience on a roofed facility.

He lashed out at Terwilliger. He glared at Maki, the Dome’s engineering expert, and tongue-lashed Lester, the Dome’s CEO, for not being forthcoming with data and decisions. He went over the top.

Thatcher was joined in his opposition to HKS and Mortenson by commission members Timothy Rose, a Minneapolis financial planner, and Loanne Thrane, of St. Paul, another longtime commission member who’s been through many stadium and arena wars.

Rose and Thrane were significantly quieter in expressing their opinions. And  Thrane, after voicing her opposition, threw her vote with the majority.

Some doozies
Amid the oratory, Thatcher tossed a few real doozies of bombs.

He plans to develop — with outside consultants — his own assessment of the way the commission staff made its recommendations to the commission members. He plans to expose their decision-making process, of which he said, “it’s tacky, it’s cheap, it’s tawdry, it’s insufficient and it’s unprofessional.”

It was almost as if he were setting up his own agency for some sort of lawsuit by the rejected bidders.

Was he?

“I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer,” Thatcher said after the meeting.

But Terwilliger said he had no concerns about any lawsuits, that he’d consulted with commission lawyers and the commission staff did a fine job in recommending HKS and Mortenson.

“I have full confidence in our staff,” he said. “There’s not a finer staff around. Say what you want about my leadership. I’ve been in the public sector for a while. I know people don’t always agree. But the comments about our staff, I asked Paul not to do that. I regret that. This staff is excellent.”

There was another Molotov cocktail to throw, the biggest one, the political one.

Thatcher wondered why there was such a “rush to judgment” on the decision to hire the architect and construction manager. 

Now, Thatcher has been working for years to get a new Vikings’ facility on track. He has said he believes the team could move if a new stadium isn’t built

But this morning he said: “There is not a person in this room with a political IQ over three who believes this project is going to the Legislature” in 2009. “And I know that, Mr. Chairman” — he said to Terwilliger — “because I’ve discussed it with you . . . It’s a fool’s errand . . . There is no rush.”

That, of course, is the last thing Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wants to hear. And Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, disagreed with Thatcher’s political assessment.

“There is urgency,” Bagley said. “Our lease is soon to run out [after 2011]. We need to move this discussion forward. We intend to move it forward, based on the work done by these consultants.”

Terwilliger said: “As a public body, we need as quickly as possible to have the numbers and a proposal together that policy members can look at . . . All of us know about the reality of the economy . . .  that’s going to affect the psychology of the moment. But our job is to proceed with responsible answers. The policy makers will make the decision.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 09/27/2008 - 07:01 am.

    The Strib’s article about yesterday’s stadium commission meeting fails to mention the dispute you so skillfully described.

    Great piece Jay!

  2. Submitted by William Jewell on 09/27/2008 - 10:39 am.

    Thursday the MN AG was asked by myself for a ruling on the legal abilities of the MSFC to first make a defacto selection of a Vikings stadium site and second do they have the right to spend $2 Million of public money on such a task. The MSFC is the responsibility of Governor Tim Pawlenty and wonder if he agress with the waste of public money.

    The MSFC before spent $1.4 million of the publics money for a design contract with ellerbee, is it time for the Governor to take control of all non-maintance Metrodome spending, it is public money not an extension of, what kind of a deal is there, Zygi’s checking account?

    The meeting yesterday seemed to not adhere to Open Meeting Laws as it was not listed on their web site Thursday or Friday and the MSFC did not answer the phone, two numbers, on Friday plus before pasing the measure they did not ask for the publics opinion and will ask the AG for an opion on this point on Monday.

    Posts later today on my website moa3(dot)com.

    Jay, who’s watching the weiner dogs while you out full time telling the story the Strib. won’t. God writing as usual and how about a little whay not a Vikings stadium at MOA?

    Bill Jewell

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