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Dome’s roof deflation shouldn’t be a factor in the inevitable Vikings stadium debate

Snow covers Mall of America Field after 17 inches cause tears and eventual collapse of the Teflon roof of the Metrodome.
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Snow covers Mall of America Field after 17 inches cause tears and eventual collapse of the Teflon roof of the Metrodome.

Snow happens.

But just because it did in historic proportions over the weekend shouldn’t be enough to emotionally crank up the long simmering Vikings stadium conversation.

Blizzard or not, that debate was bound for a Legislature near you soon anyway.

When its roof deflated Sunday morning, the suggestion that the Metrodome’s days were numbered was naturally raised. It was as if the stadium-debate climate had suddenly changed even if the rest of the world — and the state’s budget crisis — had not.

Tonight’s relocation of the game to Detroit stirred up one of those silly, instant Star Tribune web polls that are, according to the news organization itself, “entertainment” and “not considered to be true measurements of public opinion.” Still, 13,000 people had weighed in by 8 a.m. this morning, with 66 percent now convinced a new Vikings facility is needed.

As could be expected, it also triggered a simplistic outpouring of support for a stadium — no plan, no details, no $6 billion state deficit, just do-it enthusiasm — from cheerleading sports columnists with headlines, such as, “Stadium-craving owner should exploit silver lining in roof drama.”

And the leader of the pro-stadium SaveTheVikes group compared the Dome deflation to the I-35W bridge collapse, only to have to apologize later.

Just like a winning team shouldn’t be a reason to build a new $800 million to $1 billion stadium, nor should a leaky roof.

The beloved Dome
With the dear old Dome, we know what we’ve got. We’ve got a multi-purpose stadium designed in the ’70s and opened in the ’80s that’s still in use while the sports facility landscape nationally and locally has passed it by.

Obviously, this event moves the meter towards a public understanding that a new stadium may be necessary. Still, the Dome remains functional for pro football and even quaintly celebratory on many Sundays.

It is a symbol of what it was when policy-makers way-back-when approved it: a cost-effective, very Minnesotan gathering place that lawmakers brought in under budget with a genre of roof that wasn’t used at very many facilities.

For those of us who have had the misfortune to sit through hours of meetings of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the public agency that owns and operates the Dome, we know one thing: Besides the Dome’s dwindling cash reserve and the long-term future of the facility without the Twins or football Gophers, there has been no other topic more oft discussed than the safety and maintenance of the roof and, indeed, the entire building.

Better days: The HHH Metrodome circa 1991.
Photo by Mark Fay/Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Better days: The HHH Metrodome circa 1991.

The roof has been constantly inspected and repaired, and Sunday’s accident is not the result of carelessness, but, rather, of a storm and a wind that was an act of a winter’s wrath. Safety is important to the Commission, and you can be sure it will be the focus of a regularly scheduled Commission meeting this Thursday.

When the roof is repaired and good as new — hopefully in time for next Monday’s game against the Bears — we will have the same Metrodome next week that we had last week and 28 years ago. The place didn’t instantly become “decrepit.”

Nor is it somehow “obsolete” because of a hole in the roof.

As time has worn on, it has become “economically obsolete,” compared with modern stadiums because it doesn’t create the sorts of revenues that an NFL team needs in the 21st century.

And that’s what this stadium debate is — fundamentally — all about, really: What is the public’s role in keeping the Vikings competitive off (and on) the field and, therefore, viable in this market?

Issues
As the roof fell, issues were raised and revived. Some have the characteristics of the proverbial toothpaste already out of the tube, but they need to be revisited.

• What of the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium? Before it was built, and under former Vikings owner Red McCombs, there were talks about the Gophers and Vikings sharing one stadium. It was a great opportunity missed, and a public-funding savings opportunity gone awry.

One stadium for two teams would have been ideal.

This was brought into focus Sunday when the ‘U’ stadium — barely a mile from the Dome — couldn’t be used for the Vikings.

Before the Legislature begins figuring out funding for a new Vikings’ stadium, perhaps we should once and for all examine if there’s a way to fiddle with TCF Bank Stadium to house both teams. It seems socially responsible. It’s probably not doable, but let’s tell the public why.

• What does this mean for the need for a fixed or retractable roof debate on any new stadium?

The Vikings have long questioned the need for a roof. (So have I.)

For the team, a roof is an expensive accouterment to a stadium; a roof devalues luxury suites. Why should spendy fans be inside twice — in their private boxes AND inside a domed stadium?

But some members of the Sports Facilities Commission and many legislators believe there can be no argument for public funding of such a facility unless there is a roof; that way, other events — such as NCAA Final Fours — and high school championships can be staged there. However, do those events justify the cost of a $150 million to $200 million roof?

Anyone who watched the Bears-Patriots game on TV Sunday amid the remnants of our blizzard got a whiff of what football in December would look like in Minnesota without a roof.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the deflation of the Metrodome’s roof is evidence that, indeed, a new Vikings stadium demands a roof?

• What can Roger do? What can Mark do?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is set to visit the Dome next Monday — assuming it’s ready — when the team celebrates its 50th anniversary. What Goodell proposes for the Vikings future and what he says about the fate of the franchise will be listened to closely.

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton, who visited the Dome Sunday, should find a half-hour on his calendar next week, too, and begin to develop a relationship with the Commish. Former Gov. Arne Carlson was good at that with league commissioners, a rapport that kept the Timberwolves in town and helped — along with Mayor Norm Coleman’s energy — to bring the NHL back.

• What’s the plan?

“It is not appropriate to discuss the new stadium issue today,” Vikings stadium point man Lester Bagley said in a statement Sunday. “Those conversations will occur in due time.”

They will, indeed, but what’s the plan? How much money will the owners Wilf commit? Do they understand and care about the state’s financial woes? Are they prepared to be creative? Twins ownership has put in about 40 percent towards Target Field; where do the Wilfs stand?

Are they really serious about a stadium in a suburb where infrastructure costs likely will be prohibitive? Or are they just playing silly leverage games? Would they abandon the Metrodome site that is already familiar to customers and is a hub for public transit?

Are they ready to wade into a statewide debate about gambling and using it to fund a stadium? Do they really think the city of Minneapolis or Hennepin County can fund another sports facility?

That hole in the roof has gotten people talking about a new stadium, sure. But don’t let it freeze out a rational stadium debate. This is Minnesota, and snow happens.

Jay Weiner has covered Minnesota’s stadium debates since their earliest days.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2010 - 10:18 am.

    Duh. You know if there were no Vikings in MN we wouldn’t be having stadium debates or worrying about dome collapses.

    Just tell me why you think professional sports billionaires are entitled to billions of dollars of local public subsidies. We’re gonna cut three billion dollars in actual public services and you want to build a stadium for Ziffy Wolf?

    Here’s all you need to know about gambling revenue… it won’t be enough. You want to swing a gambling deal fine, but make sure the “franchise” is on the hook for shortfall not the taxpayer.

  2. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 12/13/2010 - 10:33 am.

    If gambling is such a good revenue stream, then they should be using it to fund the general budget, not to buy a billion dollar Christmas present for Wilf and the people who’s lives center around professional sports.

  3. Submitted by Dan Jurgens on 12/13/2010 - 10:42 am.

    Jay wrote:

    “The roof has been constantly inspected and repaired, and Sunday’s accident is not the result of carelessness, but, rather, of a storm and a wind that was an act of a winter’s wrath.”

    Sorry, Jay, but I don’t buy that for a minute.

    Yes, 17″ is a lot of snow. But not at all unprecedented in Minnesota. I’m sure the original architects and engineers were given parameters that said the roof would have to withstand such a snowfall.

    I think we’ll come to find out the Dome’s staff didn’t do an adequate job of handling the snow. If the room can’t handle 17″ of relatively light snow, it can’t be counted on to handle a Minnesota winter.

    I am sure the Vikings have a lease, which states the Sports Facility Commission is obligated to furnish them a safe facility they can actually use. Since the Commission didn’t do so, the team should sue the Sports Facilities Commission for any and all losses, as well as expenses incurred with moving the game to Detroit.

    Bill Lester has been saying this was, “an act of god”. That’s obviously an effort to stake out safe territory in the event of such a suit.

    Given the reality of Minnesota winters, it’s obviously a totally and completely inadequate explanation.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2010 - 10:55 am.

    //
    Yes, 17″ is a lot of snow. But not at all unprecedented in Minnesota. I’m sure the original architects and engineers were given parameters that said the roof would have to withstand such a snowfall.

    Actually the roof collapsed three times in 80s. Apparently it’s not designed to withstand the weight and pressure. I seem to recall debates about the feasibility of these kinds of inflated dome designs in this climate at the time. From a maintenance perspective at some point it just becomes too dangerous to have people up there. Imagine workers falling through those holes when it collapsed, someone could have gotten killed. Anyways,Ziggy can build whatever he want’s.

  5. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 12/13/2010 - 11:04 am.

    If the Metrodome is inadequate for the Vikings’ needs, they are free to go and build a stadium to suit them. But I’m not paying for it.

  6. Submitted by Korey McDermott on 12/13/2010 - 11:11 am.

    This article made me furious! It was only a matter of time that some people who have never set foot into a sporting event, or seen how much money a professional sports team really brings to a region or state, would use this as a chance to get back on their pedestals and talk down to us “idiots” who enjoy professional sports like its below you. I agree you cannot compare this incident to the bridge collapse, but I do think there are similarities. Just like “a bridge in America shouldn’t just fall down”; a structure meant to hold 50,000+ people shouldn’t just collapse. What happens if this was during an event, not just a football game? The dome is obsolete and had been dangerous for years. If you people ever actually went to an event there, you would see the hallways are too narrow, the seating is unsafe and the general safety of the building has been compromised for years. I guarantee that if this had happened with people in the building and there were injuries of even deaths, you wouldn’t be so quick to trash talk anyone who has been begging for a new stadium to avoid “accidents” like this. I can’t believe the narrowed mind views by the bleeding heart liberals out there that think building a new stadium is a lose/lose and will break the state’s financial back. Those people obviously do not go to or watch professional sports and have no idea the amount of money that area businesses make. For once, think of other people, instead of using your narrow minded views because you think a football team is costing you the bike path you need or the state funded environmental study you want to read about at the coffee shop on a Tuesday afternoon. A 30 year old building that is meant to hold 50,000+ at a time just collapsed and so far it sounds like the article writer and commenters just think we should tape it up and move on to something “more important” because it doesn’t benefit them personally. Get real!

  7. Submitted by Dan Jurgens on 12/13/2010 - 11:32 am.

    Paul Udstrand says:

    “Actually the roof collapsed three times in 80s. Apparently it’s not designed to withstand the weight and pressure. I seem to recall debates about the feasibility of these kinds of inflated dome designs in this climate at the time. From a maintenance perspective at some point it just becomes too dangerous to have people up there. Imagine workers falling through those holes when it collapsed, someone could have gotten killed.”

    Which is exactly my point.

    The Dome deflated three times in the 80s because the staff and crew didn’t know HOW to keep it inflated. Over time, they learned.

    They mishandled this event. It is not an act of god. The Sports Facilities Commission failed at their job.

    I haven’t said anything about building a new stadium or who should pay for it.

    My only point is that, just as MNDOT failed properly maintain a bridge, the Sports Facilities Commission failed to deal with this weather.

    And, no, I am not trying to claim this episode equates to the tragedy of a collapsing bridge. Only saying that government provided inadequate parameters under which the building must function, and since they proved over twenty-five years that they could handle snow, didn’t adequately deal with this snow.

  8. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 12/13/2010 - 12:09 pm.

    Jay… the Vikings and Gophers sharing a stadium would have been a good idea. The Vikings, Twin, and temporarily the Gophers sharing our proposed TwinDomes complex would have been a great idea.

    http://twindomes.com/pages/details.html

    When it was proposed in 2002, a TwinDomes stadia complex would have cost about $900 million to build. It would have been the functional equivalent of two retractable-roof stadiums.

    We’ve built stadiums for the Twins and Gophers costing $550 million and nearly $300 million… plus when is all is said and done, a new Vikings stadium will cost $1 billion.

    Lacking creativity and forethought, did we make a $1 billion mistake?

  9. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/13/2010 - 12:29 pm.

    Korey, this statement isn’t helping: “I can’t believe the narrowed mind views by the bleeding heart liberals out there that think building a new stadium is a lose/lose and will break the state’s financial back.”

    A lot of conservatives oppose a stadium, and a lot of liberals support a stadium, but this doesn’t make us want to support you. We’re not going to replace the Dome if some stadium supporters think it’s a good idea to attack other potential stadium supporters.

  10. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 12/13/2010 - 01:26 pm.

    When my house needed a new roof, I just built a new house.

  11. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 12/13/2010 - 01:56 pm.

    Long ago when I was a smoker, I’d replace cars when the ashtrays were full.

  12. Submitted by Mark Stromseth on 12/13/2010 - 05:01 pm.

    Korey McDermott wrote:

    “Just like “a bridge in America shouldn’t just fall down”; a structure meant to hold 50,000+ people shouldn’t just collapse.”

    I think you’re off your meds. The Metrodome did not collapse; it’s still standing. The roof collapsed, but it doesn’t come anywhere near spectators, so no one would have been injured if there had been any there.

    The Metrodome isn’t dangerous or obsolete, nor are the hallways too narrow; that’s your opinion, which is shaped by other, new sports facilities built well after the Metrodome. Just because something is newer and shinier, doesn’t make it better.

    You believe the root of the problem is Liberals, but they have nothing to do with it at all. The problem is people like you who have no grounding in reality and fail to realize that you can’t close a budget shortfall by spending more money, which is exactly what you seem to be proposing, even though your ideological heroes are opposed to that very thing. Sounds like a Republican issue to me.

    I’d say you’re the one who needs to “get real”.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2010 - 05:13 pm.

    //Only saying that government provided inadequate parameters under which the building must function, and since they proved over twenty-five years that they could handle snow, didn’t adequately deal with this snow.

    Sure. This is exactly why only the private sector should build the new stadium, with nothing but private sector money, keep the government and public money out of it.

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