New twist on Vikings tailgating: A 2-block party along the rails

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2012 - 7:25 AM

Minneapolis is experimenting with ways to make Vikings game day a more vibrant experience.

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The fun for Vikings fans looks to move closer to the Metrodome as the the city of Minneapolis wants to allow nearly two dozen food trucks and a beer stand with Minneapolis brews to set up on two blocks of 5th Street along the Hiawatha light-rail line between Park and 5th Avenues.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Think of it as a new twist on tailgating -- "railgating."

Beginning with the Minnesota Vikings' Sept. 23 home game against the San Francisco 49ers, the city of Minneapolis wants to allow nearly two dozen food trucks and a beer stand with Minneapolis brews to set up on two blocks of 5th Street along the Hiawatha light-rail line between Park and 5th Avenues.

The idea is part of an experiment by Mayor R.T. Rybak and other city officials to create a more vibrant downtown game-day experience in anticipation of the opening of a new Vikings stadium in 2016.

The $975 million development will be built on and near the current Metrodome site.

"We're not going to wait until the stadium opens to have a more exciting game-day experience," Rybak said Thursday. "Doing it now allows us to experiment a little bit. Let's jump in and let's have some fun and see what happens."

Rybak discussed the plan at a meeting of the city's stadium implementation committee, which is working with the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority on developing the future stadium neighborhood.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said he plans to meet with Rybak and other city officials on Friday to learn more about the city's plan. "We want to assure a great game-day experience for our fans," Bagley said. "So we're looking forward to hearing the details of this proposal. We need to know more."

Rybak said a final decision on the idea, dubbed "railgating," will be made by Monday, but he said: "It looks good. We don't anticipate a problem."

Brainstorming on improving pre- and post-game festivities for the team's fans started last spring during the intense legislative battle over a stadium-financing bill.

Rybak said the stadium site, one block from a light-rail station, is in one of the NFL's most urban settings, offering relatively few parking lots and other spaces where fans can gather to barbecue, eat, drink and toss Frisbees or footballs.

He said food and beverage trucks would encourage fans, many of whom already travel to games by light rail, to head downtown and party well before kickoff.

Vendors would begin setting up about 7 a.m. and operate until 1 p.m., an hour after the opening kickoff. The city would close a single lane of traffic on the two-block route, and vendors would set up in the street between the light rail and the sidewalk. The rail line would continue to operate. Some curbside parking also would be available for traditional tailgating.

"Come on down and tailgate," Rybak said. "We hope it creates a great street scene where fans are wearing their purple and then, after the game, go off to restaurants."

"We're starting small," said Chuck Lutz, Minneapolis' deputy development director. "But we'll see how it develops."

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and the Vikings are expected to pick an architect for the project in the next few weeks. Groundbreaking is expected to take place next summer.

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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