Amenities driving up cost of new stadiums

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2012 - 10:23 AM
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MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

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Most of the frills and extras planned for the Vikings football stadium that rises on the Minneapolis skyline next year will take months to shape.

But for $975 million, expect plenty.

High-definition scoreboards will replay the big plays, and spacious, well-lit concourses will give fans plenty of elbow room.

A retractable roof, if built, would open the playing field to the autumn sun. A retractable window could offer a picturesque view of a scenic downtown skyline.

Skyways will link to nearby parking lots. A public plaza will promote car-less tailgating. A team museum and Hall of Fame will showcase the best in franchise history, which some day might even include a much-coveted but extremely elusive Super Bowl trophy.

"Football is so good on television that the experience both in coming into the stadium and during the game needs to be something where you say 'Hey, I don't want to miss that,' " said Ted Mondale, executive director for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public body working with the Vikings to develop the project.

"When people go to their first game here, just like Target Field, they need to walk out and say 'Wow! That was worth it.'"

Building an attraction

With groundbreaking still a year away, the 1.5 million-square-foot, multipurpose stadium is on target to become the fourth-most expensive NFL stadium ever built.

Three stadiums already have topped the $1 billion mark: MetLife Stadium, the league's largest with 82,566 seats for New York Giants and New York Jets fans; Cowboys Stadium with its retractable roof; and the under-construction new home to the San Francisco 49ers.

Those costs are more than double those of a decade ago, when NFL stadiums were built for between $400 million and $500 million, said Prof. Robert Boland of New York University's Tisch Center for Sports Management.

Inflation is partly responsible. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drove up steel, concrete and labor costs, too, Boland said.

But the trend toward larger, more sophisticated state-of-the-art fan attractions has had the greatest pricing impact, said Mike Cramer, director of sports and media at the University of Texas-Austin, who has been involved in building 13 arenas and stadiums nationwide.

"You are not just building a home for your football team. You are building an attraction," Cramer said. Everything matters, from the overall design to the width of the concourses and loading up premium areas with better finishes and more amenities.

"Most of the modern stadiums are going for everything," Cramer said. "Better finishes inside in the premium areas will generate, in theory, more income. So you are really seeing teams trying to upgrade substantially. In order to sell something at a higher price, they are spending more money."

TV competition

A few older sports venues, such as Boston's quirky Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox baseball team, or Green Bay's Lambeau Field, home of the NFL Packers and site of several memorable championship games, are fan attractions because of their rich history.

"Green Bay is not worried about having quite as many amenities because it is a shrine," Cramer said. "People will go just to say they've been in Lambeau Field.

"But," he added, "the Vikings have to have a better building to sell."

Jack Hill, project executive for the new 49ers stadium who also oversaw construction of Cowboys Stadium, said to get that, franchises are loading up on extras, from spacious luxury suites and greater food options to better in-stadium technology and more restrooms.

"You can boil this down to the simple fan experience," Hill said. "What NFL teams are competing against is [the comfort of] your living room."

People don't want to sit in traffic for hours or stand in line for food or bathrooms, Hill said.

Added Cramer: "What people want are good sightlines and good parking and bathrooms and more of them. But you don't have to be a construction manager to know that the more bathrooms you build, it costs a lot more money."

Roof decision

Under the financing plan approved by legislators, the Vikings will build a 65,000-seat stadium that could be expanded to accommodate 72,000 fans.

Roughly $828 million of the $975 million will be spent on construction of a "fixed roof" stadium. Another $100 million will be spent on roads, ramps, parking and curbs.

Nearly $26 million will be used to acquire several nearby properties. About $22 million will be spent on relocation and stadium improvements and operations at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, where the team will play at least one season while the new stadium is built.

If land costs run higher, or the Vikings play more than one season at TCF, the team and authority would have to cut from other parts of the budget, which could include trims to some extras, said Lester Bagley, a Vikings vice president and team point man on the project.

"The building also is programmed for baseball, soccer and basketball," Bagley said. "And all those budget items will put pressure on the 975."

Every detail of the stadium design, from the size of locker rooms to the style of countertops installed in the luxury suites, will be decided by the team and the stadium authority in the months ahead.

The Vikings hope to open the stadium by the 2016 NFL season.

"Look, everybody is not going to get everything they want," Mondale said. "If that's the process, we'll never deliver this project on time. But there will be some good discussions on what is in this building and what isn't."

One of the major decisions involves the roof. The stadium legislation calls for a fixed roof, but the Vikings have the option of building a retractable roof, wall or window.

The inspiration for the feature comes from Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008 at a cost of $720 million. The stadium, home to the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has a mechanized retractable roof and a moveable window wall that opens to downtown.

While the retractable options are expensive -- Hill estimates $30 million to $50 million -- Bagley said any design savings could be directed toward a retractable feature. The bottom line, he said, is that it must be doable within the $975 million budget.

"We're confident," Bagley said, "that we can deliver a great project for that number."

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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