Mendota Heights resident Nancy Commerford once compared the lights illuminating the Vikings Eagan training facility to a circus.
Neighbors howled and the team agreed to turn off the lights after 11 p.m. Commerford said the team kept its promise.
With the inaugural training camp winding down, residents say their new neighbors kept traffic at bay, problems to a minimum and brought crowds streaming to local businesses.
The early verdict is that the Vikings training camp did not cause the massive disruptions that prompted early fears.
And some residents said they weren’t even aware that the three-week session was underway, while others found plenty to gawk at. “Everyone’s always abuzz with, ‘Do you know where so-and-so lives?’ ” said Lisa Nelson of Eagan. “In fact, I may or may not have biked by Kirk Cousins’ house.”
Ultan Duggan, a Mendota Heights City Council member who had expressed concern, said the impact has been limited.
“People created a storm in a teacup,” said Duggan.
Local businesses, especially restaurants, saw more customers. Around town, residents spotted more fancy cars and occasionally even Vikings players themselves at places like the grocery store.
“To me it’s been thrilling,” said Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan, who represents Eagan and Mendota Heights. “It’s so endearing to see the level of exposure that Eagan has gotten” from this.
Just one thing surprised the Vikings: The number of people who reserved free online tickets for training camp but didn’t show up.
The team, which gave out 5,000 free tickets for each day of camp, released hundreds more tickets during the camp’s last week so other fans could scoop them up, said Jeff Anderson, the Vikings’ vice president of strategic and corporate communications. The preseason practices brought in 63,000 people, Anderson said, though 90,000 tickets were initially given out.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” he said. “There’s been an elevated energy level, I think, from our fans.”
Some residents did report an uptick in highway traffic, though they weren’t certain whether to chalk it up to road construction or training camp. One Eagan resident groused online about the loud airhorns. People at Trinity School at River Ridge encountered a group of drunk fans in their parking lot.
But Tom Caneff, president of People of Praise, the group that runs the school, said the Vikings thought of everything from signage to port-a-potties by their overflow parking lot. “We have seen nothing but graciousness,” he said.
Planning and preparation
Much of the concern among neighbors centered on worries about overtaxed roads. Some living in Sunfish Lake thought that congestion might keep Mendota Heights’ volunteer fire department, which serves their tiny city, from reaching fires fast enough. Dan O’Leary, a Sunfish Lake City Council member, said concerns remain.
Possible congestion at Hwys. 149 and 62 (old Hwy. 110) had worried Mendota Heights residents, since a traffic study showed that intersection already saw more cars than it could handle.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation worked with the Vikings and Eagan to make sure traffic moved smoothly, said Jon Solberg, MnDOT’s south metro planner. MnDOT staffers tracked the Vikings’ schedule and modified traffic signals as necessary at 13 intersections along the Hwy. 55 and Hwy. 149 corridors. “Things went really well,” Solberg said.
Traffic counts on segments of Delaware Avenue and Hwy. 149 in Mendota Heights were close to the daily average, Solberg said.
Planning also helped make training camp uneventful for Eagan police, said Officer Aaron Machtemes. Officers attended to just a few medical calls, and made no arrests. The Vikings hired four to 11 Eagan officers to work at the camp each day, Machtemes said, adding that “not one cent of the city budget” went to providing those officers.
Though the numbers aren’t in yet, Eagan businesses appear to have done well during the camp, said Brent Cory, president and CEO of the Eagan Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bureau launched an online tool called UTrip to help fans plan local itineraries to nearby attractions such as the Mall of America and the Minnesota Zoo, he said.
Eagan brewery Union 32 Craft House had its biggest sales night since opening last year during training camp, said bar manager Rebecca Zimmerman. Bar owners started a shuttle to take patrons the half-mile to and from the Vikings’ campus.
“It’s really been one of the more beneficial expenses,” Zimmerman said, adding that the bar also hired 15 to 20 extra workers.
Mary O’Neill, who lives a half-mile from the Vikings’ facility, said training camp “worked phenomenally” and praised the team’s planning, which included “no parking” signs near her house and limited access to her neighborhood.
But like others, she said the jury’s still out on how development of the entire 200-acre Viking Lakes site will affect the area. Housing, retail and possibly a hotel are planned.
“You can call us in five years … and see what we think,” O’Neill said.