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In the bitter chill of a Minnesota January, the Vikings stadium project is about to heat up.
Within days, the team and public authority overseeing construction of the nearly billion-dollar downtown Minneapolis development will make perhaps their most important decision -- picking the company that will build the team's new NFL home on the current Metrodome site.
That hire, more than any other, will largely determine whether the 65,000-seat multipurpose stadium goes up on time, is built within its $975 million overall budget, and features a retractable roof or wall that opens to the sun, the stars and the city's downtown skyline.
"It's a huge responsibility," said John Loyd, who has worked alongside construction managers and architects while serving as an owner's representative on stadium and arena projects in more than a half dozen cities. "They are the builder. They plan the project from the start to finish and, generally, are responsible for just about everything."
So far, several large, nationally known firms have expressed interest in the job, which could pay between 2 and 4 percent of the $682 million building cost. Formal bids are due Monday, with a final decision expected by early February.
Among the companies expected to bid are Hunt Construction, which has built 12 NFL stadiums, including two -- in Indianapolis and Glendale, Ariz., -- with retractable roofs, and Skanska AB, general contractor for the $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for the New York Giants and New York Jets.
Mortenson Construction, a Twin Cities firm that has dominated the local stadium scene, also is in the mix. Mortenson was general contractor for Target Field, home of the Twins, and TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota football team. It also built Xcel Energy Center for the NHL's Wild and Target Center for the NBA's Timberwolves.
"The good news is, you've got experienced stadium builders that are candidates," Loyd said. "You do not want a firm that has not done a stadium before to come in and learn how to do it with a project that has a tight budget and a tight schedule."
Jack Hill, project executive for the new 49ers NFL stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., compares the construction manager's role to that of a traffic cop.
"The scheduling piece of this is unbelievably complex and literally involves thousands of activities," Hill said, adding that a detailed summary of the work schedule will allow the Vikings and the authority to "actually track how a job will build up and how many workers will be on site at almost any given time."
Early on, the builder will establish a project safety program, line up subcontractors and submit a guaranteed maximum construction price. If there are cost overruns, "all the risk lies with the construction manager," said Ken Johnson, an executive vice president with Hunt. "The risk of everything comes down to one entity, and you better pick one who can deliver."
Aside from price, the team and authority will rank the bids based on a firm's experience with sports venues that cost more than $300 million to build, its familiarity with erecting retractable roofs or walls, and its commitment to hiring local subcontractors and women- and minority-owned businesses.
"It'll be a fair and open process," said Lester Bagley, a Vikings vice president.
With $498 million in public financing pledged to construction, the team and authority have vowed to hire as many local workers as possible. "Hiring Minnesota firms is what this project is about," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the stadium authority.
Some observers say that could favor Mortenson because of its track record on Target Field and other local sports venues and its experience with local subcontractors. The company also worked with HKS Inc., the stadium's architect, in 2009 on future development plans for the Metrodome site.
"Local general contractors have existing relationships that add value," said Bruce D'Agostino, president of the Construction Management Association of America. "And it's a competitive advantage for local guys when they are doing the bidding. They know who are the best subs to use and how to get the best price from them."
But Loyd said out-of-state firms, such as Hunt, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., often pair with smaller, local companies to even the playing field.
Hunt was construction manager for Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, which has a mechanized retractable roof and a moveable window wall that has long appealed to the Vikings.
"Every project is unique and requires a lot of cooperation and flexibility," Loyd said. "These companies that are bidding have built all around the country. So it's not new to them to move into a new location.
"It really boils down to the people and the attitude the people bring to the project and the collaboration they forge."
Getting to work
The Vikings hope to break ground on the stadium by October and unveil it by the start of the 2016 NFL season. That timeline -- less than three years from the first scoop of dirt to the first kickoff -- is ambitious, particularly for a project that could be complicated by a retractable roof or wall.
Loyd said the new Major League baseball stadium in Miami, featuring a retractable roof and six large outfield panels that open, was built in 33 months. But crews weren't slowed by blizzards or sub-zero temperatures, conditions that can be expected in Minneapolis.
One of the contractor's first decisions will be determining where on the 33-acre site the stadium will sit and how construction will be staged. Since the building will overlap the Metrodome site, the existing stadium must be razed. The timing of demolition will determine whether the Vikings play one season or two at TCF Bank.
Kelm-Helgen said last week that "it's looking more and more likely" the Dome will be torn down shortly after the 2013 NFL season, meaning the Vikings would play at TCF in 2014 and 2015.
The builder also must weigh in soon on the roof.
The financing legislation approved last year calls for a fixed roof. The Vikings, however, prefer a retractable top or a side wall that opens, but only if one or both can be built within the budget, Kelm-Helgen said.
With the first schematic design of the stadium to be unveiled in March, a decision must come soon.
"The dominoes are sort of lining up here," Bagley said. "Once those basic decisions are made -- and the retractable feature is a big one -- it will set in motion a number of decisions."
In coming months, every detail, from welding and plumbing to the installation of seats, signs and locker rooms, will be priced and scrutinized by the new construction managers.
"There really is not anything they don't touch," Loyd said. "Their job when finished is to deliver a fully functional building."
Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425