U.S. Bank Stadium, the new home of the Minnesota Vikings, rises starkly from the site of the demolished Metrodome, a slate-and-black McMansion in a neighborhood of aging commercial buildings.
The Vikings leased office space across the street in the old Strutwear Knitting Company headquarters, a teal-trimmed art deco relic, to sell seats and suites while monitoring construction.
Last week, officials from the Vikings, Mortenson Construction, the design firm H.K.S. and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority spent a day and a half promoting the stadium and the franchise to more than a dozen journalists and bloggers, most from outside the Twin Cities.
The attendees represented niches in architecture, technology, sustainability and finance, as well as the Associated Press and MinnPost. It was quite a mix, and the Vikings strove to make the best possible impression, bringing in team President Mark Wilf, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren (returning a day early from a Cayman Islands vacation) and General Manager Rick Spielman to address the group. That’s how proud the Vikings are of their $1.082 billion facility, which is scheduled to open July 28.
In the course of this, I learned something surprising, though: Many of the out-of-towners told me they attended on the team’s dime. The Vikings flew them in and put them up for one night in the Minneapolis Hilton.
Paid junkets are common in the travel and technology industries for freelancers and non-legacy media, according to three industry experts I spoke to. None ever heard of a pro sports team doing it. Traditional media organizations like The New York Times, my primary national freelance client, and MinnPost prohibit such arrangements. (Disclosure: The Vikings fed us three meals in their offices and permitted MinnPost guest parking in the adjacent ramp.)
Were the Vikings out to buy positive publicity? If so, they really didn’t have to.
The stadium, now 90 percent completed, will be a vast improvement over the old place, with a soaring pitched roof and naturally lit interior. Much inside detail work remains, and the artificial turf won’t be installed until early May. But a tour last week gave a glimpse of the final product.
Perhaps mindful of the public debate over the political maneuvering, staggering cost, and personal seat licenses, Vikings officials backed off promoting the design as “iconic.” (That tends to be determined by the public, not the builder, over time.) They privately hope skeptical Minnesotans view it with the same wonder and awe as Target Field, which was so well-received that gripes about the public share of the $545 million pricetag eventually faded away.
“I think it’s a great design,” Wilf said. “Seeing it in reality is even better than I dreamed it. The progress is palpable. You can now see what this is going to look like. I can’t wait to see how excited the fans will be for it.”
H.K.S. reps said colliding ice floes on frozen lakes inspired the building’s jagged upward shape. (These eyes see something less soaring: an upside-down rowboat.) Our tour entered from the east side – the stern, if you will – leading onto the concourse above the first level of seats.
Even unfinished, the view was stunning. The roof — opaque to the north, transparent to the south — rises 320 feet above the floor, about 140 feet higher than the Metrodome. The natural light coming from above, and the downtown skyline view through the five large glass doors and windows to the west, obliterates the Metrodome’s biggest drawback — a lack of perspective. Fans couldn’t tell if it was day or night, or what city they were in. The south roof features a synthetic material, known by the acronym ETFE, which is lighter than glass and lets in as much light.
“We’ve had this slogan of, clear is the new retractable,” Wilf said. “Even though you’re playing in an indoor stadium, you get a full sense of the outdoor environment. You’re oriented where you are. On a nice day, you can open the doors up and feel that as well.”
The 66,200-capacity stadium will feature much wider concourses, twice as many restrooms, and twice as many concessions stands. Borrowing an idea from Target Field, the Vikings partnered with Twin Cities celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern to augment offerings from stadium food vendor Aramark, and are soliciting local restaurateurs to produce their specialties on site. The team may also invite food trucks to set up nearby.
Most fans won’t have access to the six stadium clubs. Club Purple, in the northwest corner, offers tableside service, an outdoor balcony with a fire pit overlooking the light-rail station, and a fantasy sports gaming area.
A few more things I learned:
• Not surprisingly, the team’s presentations steered clear of controversy. Mortenson Vice President John Wood described the building’s snow gutters in great detail while neglecting to mention the design flaw that necessitated $4 million in repairs. (Wood wasn’t particularly pleased when I asked him about it, either.) And a question about bird-proof glass brought this intriguing reply from Metropolitan Sports Facility Authority (MSFA) Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen: “We’re not even sure we have a problem,” with birds, she said. “If we do, we have some solutions we can apply after the fact.” Kelm-Helgen said she wasn’t sure how much that might cost.
• About 92 percent of the 49,000 seats subject to personal seat licenses — one-time purchase fees ranging from $500 to $9,500 — have been sold, according to Vikings Executive Vice President Lester Bagley. All but five of the 131 suites are leased as well. PSLs were expected to raise $125 million toward the team’s share of the cost, which has risen to $592 million. Stadium legislation fixes the public share at $498 million; the Vikings are responsible for the rest.
• A 150-foot replica of a Viking ship, with a 60-foot mast and an LED video board for a sail, will greet fans approaching Medtronic Plaza on the stadium’s west side, facing downtown. Tanya Dreesen, the Vikings vice president for special projects, said the eyes of a dragon’s head at the bow will glow purple. The Wilfs are paying for the ship and all artwork in the stadium, Dreesen said, as part of their additional $115 million contribution to construction.
• The Vikings are developing a mobile phone app that, if it works, will direct fans from their homes to their seats, offer traffic and parking updates, and even enable them to order food. Technology Vice President John Penhollow said Century Link aims to design a stadium wi-fi system that can handle 66,000-plus smartphones without crashing, though Penhollow concedes there is no way to test it until the first game.
• The reason the stadium runs east and west, rather than north-south like the Metrodome, has nothing to do with the angle of the sun. HKS architect John Hutchings said the NFL requires a 100-foot perimeter around new stadiums for security reasons, and an east-west alignment was the only way it fit on the site.
• Wilf and Spielman weren’t sure if the NFL will allow the glass doors to be opened on cold days, offering a chilly reception to a warm-weather opponent. Wilf said the NFL Competition Committee must OK it. “We’ll see,” he said.
• The Vikings still seek more tailgating space to replace lots lost to construction. “We’re still working on it,” Wilf said. “We’re confident we’ll have some options there. I don’t have a full answer of how many and where.”
• Though an Aug. 19 Luke Bryan concert will be the first major event in the building, Kelm-Helgen hinted at another concert the following day on the same stage. This morning it was announced that Metallica will perform on Aug. 20. The MSFA also plans to rent a removable grass field for occasional soccer matches.