Hennepin County balks at road closings near new Vikings stadium

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2013 - 10:06 PM

Hennepin officials say plans to close Portland and Park avenues for development near new stadium would limit access to vital services.

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Architect HKS Inc. designed these preliminary schematics of a new Vikings stadium.

Hennepin County commissioners on Thursday dampened prospects for closing two busy Minneapolis streets to accommodate development near the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

The stadium is expected to be 1.5 million square feet, 60 percent larger than the Metrodome, with adjacent development that would affect current traffic flow -- especially on game days.

In an informal one-hour briefing and discussion with board members, Phil Eckhert, director of the county's Housing, Community Works and Transit Department, mentioned the possibility of closing Park Avenue S. and Portland Avenue S. for a project to the west of, but not related to, the stadium.

But those are county roads and Board Chairman Mike Opat and Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said the closures were "non-starters."

The massive $975 million stadium is scheduled to open in 2016. It will rise on the same site as the Metrodome in an area known as Downtown East, a gateway neighborhood into the Minneapolis urban core. The area is a confluence of roads into, out of and through the city.

Significant county assets are in the neighborhood, including the medical examiner's office, Hennepin County Medical Center, the energy facility and the Metrodome light-rail transit stop. Even though the county isn't a major player in building the stadium, the board wants to preserve easy access and adequate parking at its facilities.

Opat said that the county plans to be "reasonably accommodating" to the stadium plans, but that the north-south arteries provide access to downtown and the Mississippi River as well as neighborhoods.

Opat said those roads, which also generate state revenue for the county, are critical for access to the medical examiner's building, the Juvenile Justice Center and the county's Health Services Building. Shutting down the two roadways would put the county buildings on cul-de-sacs, he said.

The roads couldn't be closed without county approval, so it seems unlikely they will be. A less drastic -- and more likely -- alternative would be to close the roads on game days.

Minneapolis Deputy Development Director Chuck Lutz watched the meeting from the audience and wasn't surprised by county opposition to the road closures, nor was he combative. "We're working together," Lutz said.

The commissioners took issue with another possible closing: 5th Street S. where it wends around the Dome's southern side.

McLaughlin said the move the county has most regretted regarding light-rail transit was closing 5th Street S. to vehicle traffic in front of the government center. The county may look to reopen that, he said.

Fifth Street S. near the stadium was one of four key issues that Opat cited for the county in the stadium project. The others are the fate of parking space on the 5th Street S. parcel where the medical examiner's office sits, the future of Park and Portland, and the impact on the county's energy center.

Question from the board

Stadium Authority Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen was at the meeting to answer questions.

Commissioner Jan Callison asked, "What do you need from us and when do you need it?"

Kelm-Helgen said she didn't know because designers are still working on the scope and orientation of the stadium and the plaza. A schematic is expected to be unveiled in March.

Among the issues is the possible development by Ryan Cos. to the west of the stadium. Ryan is in exclusive negotiations with the Star Tribune over property owned by the newspaper. The orientation of a grassy plaza outside the stadium hinges on the fate of the Ryan development, which is beyond the control of the stadium authority.

Opat added, "We don't have a role in this. We chose not to have a role." Unlike Target Field, the Minnesota Twins ballpark, the county didn't help finance the Vikings stadium. The county built and continues to finance Target Field with a 0.15 percent county-wide sales tax.

On Friday, the stadium authority and team are expected to select a builder for the project at a 9 a.m. meeting.

Finalists for the job are Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction, which built new homes for the Twins, the NHL Wild, the NBA Timberwolves and the University of Minnesota football team, and Hunt Construction, of Scottsdale, Ariz., which has built several retractable-roof NFL stadiums. Hunt bid jointly with Kraus-Anderson, a Minneapolis construction firm.

Groundbreaking on the stadium is tentatively scheduled for October. The Vikings hope to open it in time for the 2016 NFL season. Kelm-Helgen said it's likely the team will have to play the 2014 and 2015 seasons at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota.

Staff writer Richard Meryhew contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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