The elevator opened. A few steps into the press level of TCF Bank Stadium, the place smelled exactly like a new car.
Just more than a month before the first scheduled game, the University of Minnesota football team’s $288.5 million new home is just about finished. Workers plugged away at the last section of brickwork behind the east end zone on Tuesday, one of the final tasks of a project that broke ground in June 2007. The FieldTurf is lined and painted, and the maroon-and-gold chair-back seats are in place. It looks ready for play.
You can take a virtual tour at the stadium’s website here. The “exterior” view finishes with a look at one of the coolest touches: Gopher players running in from the east tunnel can see the IDS Center and part of the Minneapolis skyline.
If you’ve read other stories about the plans and the construction, you know the Gophers locker room is football-shaped and ridiculously large, 60 yards long and 25 yards wide. U officials claim it is the largest locker room in college football or the NFL.
Even the numbers don’t do justice to how vast this room is. If they took out the ostentatious “M” logo on the ceiling, Tubby Smith’s basketball team could practice in here. It holds 120 cherry-oak lockers, and Coach Tim Brewster may need a megaphone to yell at the guys at the far end of the room. (So maybe the defense should dress near the door?)
The size and opulence of the locker room are meant to wow recruits as much as the recruits’ lounge down the hall. That space, appointed with leather couches, round tables and seven flat-screen televisions, could comfortably host a moderate-size wedding reception.
But the DQ Club Room for premium seat-holders blows even that away. The 20,000-square-foot executive lounge features fireplaces, two huge bars, and plush maroon chairs with — get this — The Rouser written in gold script on the cushions.
Already, the U’s marching band has moved into its sterling new digs down the hall from the visiting locker room. According to Andy Seeley, the U’s associate director of athletic communications, the band never really had a home. They do now.
It’s a huge space with one large rehearsal room and several smaller ones, nice-size locker rooms for men and women, a spacious equipment room, and even a soda machine. It made me wish I had taken tuba lessons.
For the non-high rollers, there is still a lot to like. The seating bowl, capacity 50,805, is more intimate than the cavernous Metrodome. The view from top row is a lot closer to the action than the top row at the Dome. (I checked.) And with 50-foot-wide concourses — double what they are at the Dome — fans shouldn’t have to weave through concession lines or get stuck behind someone with State Fair Disease. (That’s the oblivious person who stops in a moving crowd to get his or her bearings, forcing you to stop or try to slip around them.)
Now, some pertinent details:
TICKETS: U officials say the joint is technically sold out for the season, though it actually isn’t yet. About 2,000 student seats per game, held back for incoming freshman and transfers, are expected to go in the next few weeks. Some tickets returned by opponents may be available the week before each home game. And a few suite and club-level tickets remain. We’ll see how much stock lands with ticket brokers.
“That’s where we wanted it to be, create a demand for Gopher football so you can’t just walk up to a game and get a ticket,” said Garry Bowman, the U’s director of athletic communications. “There’s a demand. And we hope the demand will grow. If the demand is big enough, we can expand the stadium, but we’d have to get a pretty big waiting list for that.” Bowman said the U took care of almost all of the 2,000 people on a waiting list from last year.
PARKING: Unless you’ve got premium parking, expect to hike it from the ramps near Williams Arena. Bowman said the U will run shuttles from the West Bank, the St. Paul campus and the Fairgrounds. We’ll see how that — and the presumed traffic nightmares — shake out for the Sept. 12 opener vs. Air Force. Best advice: Get there early.
Some tailgating will be allowed in surface lots near the stadium, but no earlier than 7 a.m. for noon games and six hours before kickoff for other times. Other restrictions — gas grills only, and no kegs — are detailed here.