The view from a seat at the 2019 NCAA Final Four won’t come with a glimpse of the Minneapolis skyline. Gone, too, will be the pockets of natural light dappling the rows of fans at U.S. Bank Stadium.
For the duration of the college basketball championship, the stadium’s signature brightness will go dark, blocked out by thousands of pounds of heavy gray fabric already being installed.
“The sun and the views — that’s what makes [the stadium] unique and beautiful,” said Patrick Talty, the stadium’s general manager. But the bid for the Final Four required a way to darken the venue and keep lighting consistent for televising the games. So for the first part of April, “we have to take our biggest asset away,” Talty said.
But the fabric and installation equipment — which cost $4.6 million from the stadium’s capital improvement fund — are themselves a lure, stadium officials said Tuesday at a news conference unveiling the “darkening solution.”
“This puts us in a great marketing position in getting us ready to sell and host large events,” said Michael Vekich, chairman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the public board overseeing the stadium. Though the curtains will be removed after the Final Four, they will be installed again for two religious events in 2019 and 2021, Vekich said.
Draped fabric along the west and east ends of the stadium will also be used to help with acoustics for concerts, including the Garth Brooks shows in May.
“[Concert attendees] will certainly notice the difference,” said Curtis Schmillen, the stadium’s director of operations.
The MSFA chose Tempe, Ariz.-based company bluemedia to engineer, manufacture and install the 75 panels to cover the ceiling and the Chicago Flyhouse Inc. for the 7 miles of curtain fabric to cover the glass windows and doors.
By Tuesday, more than half of the ceiling and about a third of the walls were covered. The stadium needs to be “game-ready” by April 1, which also includes adding 14,000 seats, the basketball floor and a suspended center scoreboard.
Installation or removal of all the fabric can take up to a week with a crew of 20 to 25 workers, Schmillen said. To install the panels on the ceiling, the crew works from the catwalk, pulling the fabric panels from the stadium’s floor.
“It’s like sailboat technology,” Schmillen said. “We just fly it up there like you would on a sailboat.”
Though the stadium will store the curtains and fabric panels temporarily after the Final Four, a local, off-site storage facility will likely be needed by summer, Schmillen said.
“It is a whole lot of fabric,” he said.
The first chance for the public to see the football stadium transformed into college basketball’s championship stage will come on April 5 with Final Four Friday, a free, non-ticketed event. Visitors can watch each of the Final Four teams in an open practice and stay for the College All-Star Game in the afternoon. A full schedule of activities is listed online.
U.S. Bank Stadium is also seeking part-time workers in guest and cleaning services for the tournament and for upcoming concerts. Applicants can apply online or attend one of three job fairs at the stadium: March 13 from 4 to 7 p.m.; March 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; or March 19 from 4 to 7 p.m. Those attending the job fairs should enter at the Lower Pentair Gate off south 6th Street.