Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United franchise publicly presented Allianz Field on Monday, the young team’s curvaceous new home in St. Paul.
The Loons will play their first home match in the stadium on April 13 in the privately funded 20,000-seat building that will most certainly be full.
The luminescent pale gray structure provides a custom-designed pad for the team to feed what supporters say is a hunger in a region that hasn’t had true, hometown soccer since the Kicks dissolved and left Met Stadium in 1981.
“To me this is truly ‘L’Etoile du Nord,’ the star of the north,” team owner Bill McGuire told at least 200 lightly bundled supporters celebrating the $250 million building near Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue.
Allianz Field is the fifth new stadium to open in the Twin Cities in the past decade dedicated primarily to men’s sports. While numerous teams once shared the Metrodome in Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington before that, the push was on in the mid-1990s for sport-specific spaces to enhance fan experience, player safety and maximize ownership profits.
The Golden Gophers led the stampede out of the multipurpose Metrodome when they opened TCF Bank Stadium in 2009, where United FC has been playing. The Twins moved into Target Field for the 2010 season. The Vikings opened U.S. Bank Stadium on the site of the former Metrodome in August 2016. The St. Paul Saints opened a new home in Lowertown in 2015.
Along the way, Xcel Energy and Target centers have seen overhauls and upgrades.
Allianz Field impressed in the debut of its interior with subdued wood finishes and a view of the sky through a rectangular overhang that provides a cozy cloak of cover and erases the sense of being anywhere near traffic. Designed for the sport and the specific space, the seats are aligned to try to give all fans a sense of being close to the action.
The stadium has suites and fancy spaces up high with touches of wood and the Loons’ black and powder blue. But the most coveted spots, the ones that define the building, are down low, flush with the pitch. Fans in the front row of these areas can tickle their toes in the grass that goes right up to their seats.
While the sun was out and temperature was tolerable, no feet were visible at the opening.
The team’s front office dubbed Monday’s ceremony a “scarves up” event, a reference to the knitted wraps that guests raised as they sang along to the Oasis song “Wonderwall,” before the speakers blasted Prince’s “Kiss” and everyone headed inside for a tour and flutes of champagne.
The tributes freely flowed from the speakers who followed McGuire: Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, Allianz Life president and CEO Walter White, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
Flanagan said her 6-year-old daughter, Siobhan, noted the stadium’s unique design, asking “Mommy, when is the spaceship going to open … so we can go see soccer?”
McGuire, who led the effort to get an MLS team and build the stadium, claimed economic benefit of $200 million to the community already and $46 million in wages during construction. The stadium, which sits on the site of a demolished Rainbow grocery store, Big Top Liquors and a Metro Transit bus garage, has “set the grid” for neighboring residential and retail development, McGuire said.
Eventually, a 3-acre front lawn will turn green and welcome visitors, but for now Allianz Field sits across surface parking from a McDonald’s, a faded strip mall with a Foot Locker and a Great Clips and across Snelling to a green-tiled Spruce Tree Center. On the back end is I-94, the main artery between the Twin Cities.
McGuire said the soccer-only stadium was designed to represent the state with a “lyrical flow” signifying the Mississippi River as well as Minnesota’s lakes and streams. The steel girdings of the building signify strength and allude to the Iron Range heritage. The building’s translucent skin is the first of its kind, providing the canvas for the nighttime LED light dance that references the Northern Lights.
Given its location at the confluence of light rail, a speedy bus route, the interstate and eventually more bike lanes, the hope is the team and the stadium will open a bold new chapter for the working-class neighborhood that is a hub for students from several nearby universities but has also faced familiar urban development struggles and higher crime rates.
Carter said the stadium is “just the kind of project our city is proud to support.”
Former Mayor Chris Coleman, who attended the event but didn’t speak, kick-started the project for St. Paul when he dangled the alluring site to the owners who had been actively looking around Minneapolis.
St. Paul Council Member Chris Tolbert, who was an early supporter, stood in the back at Monday’s event, taking it in and said, “Wait until this thing gets activated. It’s going to be amazing.”