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.
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?
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.