The architecture of the Minnesota Vikings Stadium: take it or leave it?
Personally, I think it looks like a cross between a laser jet printer, a drunk Frank Gehry and something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is not a compliment. However, be this as it may, preference on architectural styling, no one should be surprised as this is the usual forgettable stuff that post-modernist firms like HKS Architects have been creating for quite some time.
I’ve been a critic of professional sports financing for a long time and will continue to be; but now that it’s a reality that the Vikings will get a new home, I’d like to see it be as good as possible. That means we need a combination of respectful architecture and urban design. This proposal fails on both fronts.
For all it’s faults, the City of Indianapolis built Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s a large, expensive taxpayer subsidizes stadium, but it does pay homage to classical architecture. It doesn’t always have the best street frontage, but it still pretends the pedestrian exists. Going into tonight, I had my fingers crossed that we’d get something similar to Indianapolis.
The architecture and urban design of the new Vikings stadium are bad, at best. I’ll ignore architecture here. The urban design isn’t shaping out to be an improvement over the current footprint of the Metrodome. Urban design is very important, and for this reason, I ask the City of Minneapolis Council to consider that upon their approval of the site plan.
Along the plaza, facing the current Metrodome light rail station, a large plaza opens up to large glass walls. This will likely be an impressive sight from inside the new stadium, but it won’t do much for pedestrian activity or promoting a lively streetscape during non-game days. The plaza needs more activity.
It’s a large building that adds a small park to the Metrodome’s existing footprint. We need more. But, what’s a green space with an active surrounding? The park like space will likely be empty without adjacent buildings nearby to add activity.
There are no new improved transportation connections between the Downtown East neighborhood and the rest of downtown or the River. It’s basically a new, modern rendition of the Metrodome: an over-sized, unquestionably ugly spaceship that adds nothing to the built environment.
The large plaza will be lively during the football season, but will likely be a wind-swept space during regular 9 to 5 Monday-Saturday. It’s a large, nondescript plaza that pays homage to the stadiums large set of windows, and not to the surrounding environment.
This will arguably be the worst part of the stadium. It’s a large, multistory blank wall. No activity here except a parking lot and some emergency exit doors. It’s blank, dark and ignores the urban environment. This is unacceptable – a 5 to 6 story blank wall? No windows. A few doors. Lots of emptiness.
There really isn’t much here that will act as an improvement in the urban design department, and it is hard to see how a building like this will promote additional development. Who would want to live by a monolithic, mega church of a building that only occasionally pays homage to the cultural Gods of Football. It’ll be empty 95% of the time and chaotic the other 5%.
Now, with e-pulltabs being as they are, all we need to do now is find a way to pay for itself (and, if you don’t care for it, well – if history repeats itself, it’ll likely be torn down in about 20 years).
Who would want to live by a football stadium? It’s virtually empty or seriously under-utilized 355 days a year and chaotic for the other 10 days a year. That sounds miserable.
A recent Star Tribune commentary asked the question, “Vikings stadium: Good neighbor or not?”.
Historically, the answer has been not; and based on all the renderings I’ve seen, the answer will continue to be not. Actually, I take that back – the stadium won’t be either a good neighbor or a bad neighbor. Why? Because it won’t really have any neighbors.
While not the final design, the most recent building renderings resemble nothing more than Metrodome version 2.0 – (it looks like someone sliced the dome’s roof to let in some air and then added a glass facade). North of the stadium, there are three city block sized open surface parking lots. To the west of the site, there are what appear to be two blocks of undefined plaza space. There is some green space and a few small building on the east side of the site, but since this space is currently an interstate highway, it’s not really clear what will happen there.
The only neighbors it would inconvenience are those who are already currently inconvenienced by the stadium. It’s likely the new stadium won’t spark new neighbors either. Do Stadiums Bring Development? Usually not.
I’ve written about this and shared these images a lot over the past year, and I continue to do so because I believe they are powerful in visually showing how little stadiums actually help.
If we build it, they will come? This argument doesn’t hold up under even the most modest of scrutinies. The Twin Cities own experiences should serve lesson that large sport and convention center venues do not create a catalyst for development.
[Minneapolis, Minnesota - 1991, 2002, 2009]
Notice the development around the Metrodome? Neither did anyone else. North of the Metrodome, near the Guthrie Theater, residential development has occurred, but little of which can be attributed to proximity to the Metrodome. The Mississippi River, cultural amenities and other forces play a larger role in redevelopment.
St. Paul has had similar results with the Xcel Energy Center.
[St. Paul, Minnesota - 1991, 2002, 2009]
The taxpayer-subsidized arena was supposed to act as a catalyst for development in St. Paul. Ten years later, there isn’t much to show for it besides renovated pubs along West 7th Street. All of which are fantastic (McGoverns, The Liffey, Eagle Street, Tom Reid’s), but the success of these local watering holes is hardly worthy of hundreds of millions dollars in taxpayer subsidizes.
Stadiums prompting development in the immediate surrounding area of new stadium construction certainly sounds like a plausible argument as large infrastructure projects do typically yield private development. However, sport stadiums appear to be the exception to the rule.
[Indianapolis, Indiana - 1992, 2007, 2010]
The new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is pictured above. Notice the RCA Dome in the 1992 and 2007 images. It’s a now a convention center – a non-private sector development.
[Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - 1992, 2002, 2011]
Philadelphia’s sports district has seen little improvement in two decades. Sports stadiums seemed to beget only more sports stadiums … and open surface parking lots. A similar story exists in Phoenix, Arizona, where not even the seemingly omnipresent speculative housing subdivisions of Phoenix desired proximity.
[Phoenix, Arizona - 1992, 2003, 2011]
Even urban success stories of the 2000s (such as Denver and Pittsburgh) with large influxes of people clamoring for downtown and inner-city real estate struggled to fill in the empty surfaces surrounding their sport stadiums.
[Pepsi Arena, Denver, Colorado - 1992, 2002, 2011]
[Coors Field, Denver, Colorado - 1993, 2003, 2011]
[Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - 1993, 2004, 2010]
Is Minneapolis the exception to the rule? Will we somehow beat this stadium vacuum? It’s unlikely. When a large building fails at creating a lively mix of retail, residential, commercial and civic space – it creates an isolating space not worthy of the public affection. Developers, unless enticed with subsidizes, will likely avoid these places.
It doesn’t help that these stadiums aren’t cheap – taxpayers usually end up taking on the initial bill, and all the risk. Stadiums and their surrounding districts are the new “Bilbao anomaly”, are the new urban mall, are the new downtown casino, are the new urban renewal.
“All of the concept drawings of the now-approved Vikings stadium proposal include large swaths of dedicated tailgating lots near the stadium. If Minneapolis builds these lots, the new facility will simply repeat the development mistakes of the area surrounding the Metrodome.” - Sam Rockwell at MinnPost
Who doesn’t love a good tailgate?
Back in the mid-2000s, I’d head to baseball games at the Metrodome with a handful of friends, grab a grill, some cheap beer and countless brats and burgers. We’d post up in the parking lot that’s now Gold Medal Park and we’d eat, drink and occasionally make it to a Twins game. It was a blast.
Tailgating is not only fun, but it’s synonymous with red, white and blue. It has become a new American tradition that is seamlessly being integrated into new stadium plans. Unfortunately, these tailgating plans don’t fit well into urban spaces.
This is what the tailgating mecca of now-Gold Medal Park looked like circa 2006.
It was a beautiful, drunken mess of a place. This is a Google Streetview of the location a few years later. It’s clean, green and has a bike lane that connects to the Mississippi River.
The tailgating is gone. It’s been replaced by a park that abuts a number of mid-rise condo developments. 2nd Street in downtown has to be one of the most transformed streets in all of Minneapolis. What was once a sea of parking is now a successful urban place. This is the problem with tailgating in downtown and other locations where land is at a premium.
Tailgating downtown (or by the University of Minnesota, for example) isn’t very productive. Having open-surface parking lots in downtown designed for the sole purpose of grilling 10 days a year is unwise. Even if you consider that people will use the space for parking during the other 350 non-event days a year, it still falls short.
The Vikings Stadium site plan hasn’t been finalized, but this is what the public has to work with. Most of the northwest side of the proposed stadium is dedicated as some type of open space or tailgating space. The curious site drawing even includes two grey half-circle parcels what is now a over a parking lot and a Hennepin County building. If I had to take a guess, I’d say its a clever way to disguise what they hope will be open surface parking.
Why does land use matter? Well, that’s basically what we’re dealing with here in the development of the “People’s Stadium”. How the new stadium and its surrounding relate to the rest of the downtown environment will ultimately determine the success of the stadium itself. The Metrodome failed as a catalyst for a number of reasons, some of which were outside of its control, but one of the primary failures of the Metrodome was that it helped turn everything around it into a parking lot.
There is this dubious claim advocated by stadium proponents that stadiums bring development. Minus a bar here and there, this is not true. Think of this, has Target Field really created development? Or, would the development in the North Loop occurred anyway? From all I can tell, all Target Field did was successfully motive Hubert’s and Kieran’s to relocate while leveraging the on-going successes of the North Loop.
Why would anyone want to live by a stadium or a tailgating lot? It’s a complete desert 95 percent of the time and complete chaos the other five percent of the time. Wanting to intentionally create that environment, that boom and bust cycle, in the center of a town seems like a good way to hurt it.
While I liked Sam Rockwell’s MinnPost article (and how he described the problem), I have to disagree with his assertion that a compromise can be reached and that Minneapolis can reinvent tailgating. We can’t, and we shouldn’t try. Minneapolis shouldn’t discourage people from tailgating, but at the same time, they certainly shouldn’t sacrifice our urban area to accommodate it. And, if it does, Minneapolis merely be repeating the mistakes of the past.
Follow me on Twitter at @Nathaniel1983.