Hot Dish Politics: Is it time to say goodbye to our aging Dome?

  • Article by: BY BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2012 - 10:59 PM

The old Minnesota Twins dugout in the Metrodome is worn out and grungy. There are rodent traps in hidden nooks of the building. One of the vast, dusty storage areas is stuffed floor-to-ceiling with red chairs and maintenance equipment.

Everyone from Gov. Mark Dayton to Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf seems to agree that, after 30 years of operation, no amount of tinkering can make the aging Metrodome a viable NFL home. The site could suffice, officials say, but the building is "unworkable."

Is the Dome really that bad? Dome facilities director Steven Maki would never say so, but he acknowledges there are challenges in operating a stadium built during a different era of stadium design.

Taxpayers built the Dome, which opened in 1982, for the comparatively bargain price of $68 million, a tiny fraction of the estimate of a new stadium. Over the years, the building had to serve as an all-purpose arena for football, baseball, basketball, monster truck shows and thousands of other events.

The low price and countless demands resulted in a far from perfect design.

The concourses are about half the width of newer professional football stadiums and "we could certainly use more women's bathrooms," Maki said.

Metrodome officials spend roughly $1 million a year updating the facility, often for utilitarian amenities that fans don't see, such as added storage space and new carpeting in lockerrooms.

Maki estimates dome officials have spent nearly as much maintaining the building as it cost to build.

There are still corners of the building that look like a flashback to the 1980s -- or earlier. The room where staffers adjust the switches to control the 20 fans that keep the roof inflated looks like a scene out of a 1970s sci-fi movie.

"The technology is what I would call old, but stable," Maki said.

He said dome officials could easily spend tens of millions of dollars sprucing up the facility, retooling restrooms and installing high-definition monitors to improve the fan experience.

Completing those cosmetic fixes are not enough to overcome what the Vikings and many state leaders agree is a more significant flaw: The building's design makes it difficult for the team to maximize profits.

The new stadium designs are more vertical to enhance fan experience, with more lucrative skyboxes, club seating and superior concession and restroom areas. The Metrodome's footprint is about 900,000 square feet, compared with the NFL average of 1.6 million square feet.

To do that level of renovation, Maki said, it makes more sense to tear it down and start new.

"This building might not be physically outdated, but from a sports economics perspective, it's become more outdated," Maki said.

He won't be surprised if the Dome is down to its final months or years of service.

"It would be a sad occasion, but you also have this catharsis about what the new one could be," he said.

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