In the spring of 2006, the Legislature had just provided the final piece to the funding puzzle for a new football stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. It was time to start planning just what TCF Bank Stadium was going to be.
Big question, that.
The school had just been given the go-ahead to plan a return to campus after nearly three decades downtown, and permission to build their dream (Brick)house. But what was that house going to be, exactly?
Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi -- who eventually co-chaired what became the stadium project executive committee with university vice president Kathleen O'Brien -- remembers sitting down and hearing pitches from various architectural firms.
Some firms came with plans, drawings. This is what we see, they said. This is how it should be, they suggested. And then the group from HOK Sport-- now known as Populous -- came in and turned the process around.
"They didn't come in with any predesign concepts as to what they wanted to build," Maturi said. "They came in and said, 'What do you want?'"
The challenge: build a 50,805-seat stadium with every futuristic bell and whistle but also an echo of the past. A state-of-the-art stadium that looks as if it belongs to the state of Minnesota.
On Saturday, TCF Bank Stadium's doors will be opened for its first game. It has the largest locker room in the country, the third-largest scoreboard in college football. There are top-end finishes and bright maroon end zones, 844 doors and 9,185 block letter M's and 350 LCD TVs. Suites, loge seating and club seats. There is a sound system with 799 speakers and 329,400 watts to pump up the volume.
There is a home for the marching band. Premium seat holders will receive access to the luxurious, 20,000-square-foot, climate-controlled DQ Club. There is a well-appointed M Room for former letterwinners.
And yet, as you cross Oak Street and head to the stadium, you see the brick facade, the county names ringing the building over stone arches and you feel an almost instant sense of history. This building belongs here.
Turns out this is what they all wanted it to be.
"We wanted this to be Minnesota's stadium," said O'Brien, the university's vice president of university services. "We told the architects and designers and engineers that, when people saw the stadium, we didn't want it to be just a football stadium. We wanted them to say, 'That's a football stadium at the University of Minnesota.'"
In June 2007, ground was broken. By the next January, the first steel rose. In April of 2008, the first brick was laid. And Saturday, for the first time since Nov. 21, 1981, the Gophers will play a game on campus. Total construction time was a staggeringly short 26 months.
So what exactly makes a stadium feel Minnesota?
Populous is capable of just about anything. The company has designed stadiums for the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. Look at their plans for a stadium the folks at the University of Washington want to build, and it looks as if a spaceship has landed in the Pacific Northwest.
Populous does do it all. But its representatives spent months on Minnesota's campus talking with students, faculty and community leaders before coming up with a design.
What did they want to know?
"We sat down with the university and had idea sessions," said Jeff Spear, the lead designer of the project for Populous. "We talked about what we wanted to accomplish. What was a college stadium."
Well, one that wasn't a pro stadium, for starters.
Richard Pfutzenreuter is a vice president and chief financial officer at Minnesota. He was at the university when a representative in the Minnesota House named Tim Pawlenty suggested the school should look at a joint stadium venture, on campus, with the Vikings.
Ultimately, Pfutzenreuter said, the goals of the two teams were too different to make it work. "Right away we knew we didn't want a huge entertainment facility on campus," he said.
So when it came time to design TCF Bank Stadium, there were some criteria.
"I remember we spent a lot of time talking about the idea of what does college mean?" said Phil Esten, the assistant athletic director in charge of the project. "We spent days just talking about that. Well, it means brick. It means ivy. It means a place for the band and the spirit squad. It means people on campus coming together for a reason. We spent months talking about that stuff."
Said Spear: "They wanted it to fit into the context of the Big Ten. NCAA football. So the horseshoe-shaped bowl was where we started. They wanted to recall old Memorial Stadium, but they didn't want to re-create it. They wanted references. I think the overall shape, the exterior of the building, the curved shape as you walk around it, that was a direct reference to Memorial Stadium."
University officials toured stadiums all over the country. After a trip to the Denver Broncos' new stadium, they came away determined to have a concrete-based stadium rather than a steel one. Ideas were garnered everywhere. They loved the way Ohio State's renovation included suites with some outdoor seats and a door that could be opened to the elements and borrowed that idea. They liked the way Purdue laid out its press box.
Slowly, the design emerged.
Originally the stadium was going to have only one side in brick, with the rest an open structure. Ultimately a full-brick facade was decided upon, meaning upwards of 760,000 bricks; turns out there weren't enough bricklayers in the entire state to lay that many bricks. The answer? Half the brick in the building is so-called "thin brick," a process in which a brick is cut in half, then attached to a panel 100 bricks at a time. The panel was then placed on the facade, speeding the process.
At first the stadium was going to face north-south, but that was changed to east-west. O'Brien said that change was suggested by University President Robert Bruininks. The result was a horseshoe that opened up to Williams Arena, Mariucci Arena and downtown Minneapolis; from most seats in the stadium, a fan can see the site of every Gophers stadium since Northrop Field opened in 1899. After all, Memorial Stadium ran east-west, too.
University of Minnesota staffer Brian Swanson suggested the county names be placed over the arches, according to O'Brien.
High tech, home built
O'Brien came to the university after working as a city coordinator for Minneapolis, where she oversaw the convention center expansion and the planning for the Central Library.
To her, TCF Bank Stadium is a great blend of throwback style with futuristic design.
Start with the choice of Mortenson Construction as the stadium's contractor in large part because of its use of BIM (Building Information Modeling) design. It's a process that uses computer modeling software to increase productivity in the construction process.
"It's virtual modeling," O'Brien said. "For example, when the steel came in, it was all coded like a big puzzle. The steel pieces went in like butter."
There's more. The design included infrastructure that would enable the stadium to be expanded to 80,000 seats. There are currently 25,000 seats with permanent seatbacks, and the rest are benches. But those benches were designed so that, should they be replaced by seats, no capacity will be lost.
TCF Bank Stadium is in line to become the first LEED-certified football stadium in the country, a program called "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design," developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Much of the stadium was built on the site of a former creosote plant, so the soil had to be cleaned up. There was a stormwater management system installed that filters water before it goes into the sewer system. All the lights in the stadium are motion lights. Ninety-five percent of steel on site is recycled, and 95 percent of waste material coming off site was recycled.
More than 2,000 people worked on the site, with 600 being the most on site at any time. According to Esten, 95 percent of the work was given to Minnesota-owned businesses, with 29 percent given to minority- or women-owned business. "The only things we gave to companies out of state was for things we couldn't get here," he said. Such as the scoreboards, which were purchased from Daktronics in South Dakota. And the seats, which came from Michigan.
The 'wow' factor
Know why everybody's happy with how the stadium turned out? Easy, Maturi said. Everyone got involved.
"The football area was designed by the football staff -- the locker room, the training room," he said. "The band room was designed by the band people."
The result: wow. Gophers coach Tim Brewster came aboard with the project already well underway. But he had huge input. The locker room -- 60 yards long and 25 yards wide -- was built in a football shape at his suggestion. He and his staff also had input on the huge recruiting room, which will cater to recruits and their families on game day.
"I didn't want to have a locker room with compartments," Brewster said. "That creates cliques. You have to be able to look at each other. This was one of those projects that exceeded all expectations. Some stadiums are bigger, but none are any nicer. ... To me, this is the dreams of Minnesotans, the dream to get football back on campus. Think about it. For the first time since 1981, Minnesota is going to have a home-field advantage. A true home-field advantage. Our first game there will be a very emotional one. It gives me goosebumps."
For Maturi, this will be his legacy, though you'll have a hard time getting him to admit it. "I won't go down that path," he said. "But I will forever feel good to have been a part of this. I will return in Minnesota. If I get fired tomorrow, I'm going to live here. ... My wife and I want to live here for the rest of our lives and go to football games. I'll probably have a smile on my face every time we go into it."