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An insider’s view of how the Vikings stadium design came together

The People’s Stadium Implementation Committee spent 10 months writing a vision statement for architects designing the Vikings stadium.

We wanted entrances and exits in all directions, so that no neighborhood would be looking at a back door, yet have the primary façade face downtown and the plaza.
Minnesota Vikings

In governance speak, the ad hoc People’s Stadium Implementation Committee spent 10 months writing a vision and principles statement to give HKS Architects guidance in designing the best urban football stadium in the country at the core of a vibrant place.

But as I’ve sat through committee meetings since last August it seemed to me more like the kids planning a kick-ass party with an awesome gift registry. Instead of flatware and martini glasses we wanted plenty of green space and bicycle racks. At first blush, it looks as though we’ll get much of what we’ve asked for.

At the request of Mayor R.T. Rybak, I’m the sample resident in the group of 26 people on the Implementation Committee for the (fill in naming rights here) Stadium. The committee appears to be pretty well balanced in terms of gender and ethnicity. We community organizers, small- and medium-sized business owners, five city council members, the mayor, a county commissioner, a sample Vikings’ fan and a smattering of architects have spent a fair amount of energy trying to figure out what Minnesotans want in their stadium.

It’s important to note that there was no committee like this one when the Metrodome was built. In fact, the visionaries, who probably met at the Minneapolis Club, didn’t want development around the stadium for fear that it would distract people away from the core downtown with its burgeoning restaurant and theater district. They wanted fans to drive in, tailgate in the vacant lots and drive out again. Until fairly recently city ordinance discouraged retail development in Downtown East. What a difference a few years make.

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Under state charter the city has no say about design on the inside of the stadium. That’s up to the Vikings and the Metropolitan Sports Authority. Our purview is from the skin of the building out.

Lots of ideas

We had plenty of ideas. We wanted it to be bold, iconic, cosmopolitan. We wanted it to be porous, meaning that people could access it even when there were no events, perhaps through food stations or a sports store. We wanted entrances and exits in all directions, so that no neighborhood would be looking at a back door, yet have the primary façade face downtown and the plaza.

We wanted it to be pedestrian, bike and mass transit friendly, meaning well-lit walking and bike paths, with easy connection to the light rail. We wanted all visitors to be to walk all the way around the stadium.

We knew there was a possibility of a plaza, although we – or at least most of us – didn’t know specifics of the plan for the Ryan development for office, residential and retail, with it’s two 20-story towers. Nonetheless, we said what we wanted there, too. We wanted the plaza to value quality over quantity in size, design and materials. We wanted it to be enticing for families, athletes, exercisers and community year round. We wanted public art, trees and good use of daylight and sun, especially in the winter.

We wanted it to guarantee that parking would be available not just for stadium users, but the entire area.

Oh, and we wanted it all to be energy and water efficient at the lowest possible cost, with the ability to recycle anything organic and offer local, fresh foods that reflect the cultural diversity of the state.

The whole wish list, with bibliography, is six single-spaced pages long, written with a consistent voice that would impress anyone who has ever tried to write by committee.

To see it, go to City of Minneapolis People’s Stadium website. You’ll also find schematics and all kinds of other interesting items there.

Since the unveiling of the stadium plan on May 13 and the Ryan development for the plaza on May 14, the most popular conversation starter has been, “Well, then, what do you think of the stadium?”

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I gotta say it’s growing on me, especially after a committee meeting May 17, where we began to examine the plan in the context of our wish list. It looks like we’ll be getting most of what we wanted. It’s bold, iconic and cosmopolitan, much like the exteriors of the Guthrie Theater, the Walker, the Weisman Art Museum, to name a few. By moving loading docks under the structure HKS made it a 360-degree building, snubbing no one. The shape and outside materials take on the character of the Mississippi River. The 90-foot glass pivoting doors opening toward the downtown skyline combined with all kinds of venting and air circulation on nice days will give the feeling of outdoors to anyone inside. Caps and sun block will be de rigueur.

Lingering issues

There are a few issues to work out. Although the word tailgating does not appear in the wish list, Rybak has said the almost nine-acre park adjacent to the stadium would welcome Vikings fans in all their purple glory. The problem is Vikings fans like their baked beans served from the tailgate of a truck that has hauled coolers, a grill, lawn chairs and a bean-toss game to the site where it can stay parked during the game. No one’s going to be able to drive a Ford Explorer, or any other vehicle, on the lush lawns for that bona fide tailgating experience.  

The wish list asks the architects to site the stadium so that no street closures are required. They have done that. But the current drawings show Portland Avenue South stopping at the edge of the Ryan development park at 4th Street South then picking up again at 5th Street South. Because Park and Portland are Hennepin County roads they can only be closed by the county board, which is unlikely.

Then there’s the matter of birds. Will eagles guided by the nearby Mississippi River as a flyway unwittingly smash into the sky high iconic peak? Will the super plastic stadium roof become a filthy mess? Anyone who has tried to keep a skylight clean knows that what birds fly droppings do too.

These are some of the questions we on the committee talk about in our meetings. We have a couple of months to compare the actual design of the stadium and surrounding area against our wish list, then tell the Minneapolis City Council whether we’ve got the right stuff for a party we hope will last decades. Stay tuned.

Judith Yates Borger has covered a variety of topics for MinnPost and is author of the Skeeter Hughes, News Reporter, Mystery series. Her third book is due out this fall.