StarTribune.com

Metrodome roof rips, collapses

By DEE DePASS, JUDD ZULGAD, DENNIS J. McGRATH, Star Tribune staff writers

December 13, 2010

For the fourth time in the Metrodome's 28-year history, snow and high winds ripped and deflated its roof Sunday morning, leaving a big, white, billowy hole in the Minneapolis skyline.

The roof gave way at 5 a.m. Sunday when three fabric panels tore under the weight of more than 24 inches of snow in places, creating a mess that ultimately could cost the Vikings millions in lost revenue. No one was injured.

An estimated 64,000 ticket holders were expected at Sunday's game. With season ticket holders paying $30 to $150 a ticket and more money at the concession stand, potential losses could be high.

Inside the bitterly cold stadium Sunday morning, a surreal scene emerged: Sunshine shimmered on seats and splattered snow covered the green turf. Lights and giant speakers hung perilously low above the field.

The Vikings, scheduled to play the New York Giants at the Metrodome Sunday, will kick off instead at 6:20 p.m. Monday Central time in Detroit's dome.

The Vikings' next at-home game is Dec. 20 against the Chicago Bears. Officials are looking for an alternate site.

The Vikings said that any ticket holders to the original Vikings-Giants game who make it to Detroit will be admitted and given preferred seating along the 50-yard line. Season ticket holders and those who bought tickets through the Vikings office or Ticketmaster will get full refunds if they can't make it to the game.

Officials from Birdair Structures Inc., the Amherst, N.Y., rooftop fabricator and installer, will arrive in Minneapolis to assess damage and start repair work Monday, said Steve Maki, Dome facilities and engineering director for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. No one could estimate yet how long repairs might take.

This is the fourth time Birdair has had to deal with a collapse of the roof. An April 1983 storm of wet, heavy snow deflated it and prompted a repair that took four days. The Dome collapsed in November 1981, just one month after it was first inflated and again in December 1982, eight months after its completion.

In a news conference Sunday, Vikings coach Les Frazier said, "We would have loved to have played this game at home. No question about it. ... But hopefully some of our fans will be able to travel in Detroit."

Steve LaCroix, Minnesota Vikings vice president of sales and marketing, said moving the game to Detroit was complex, "not only for the Minnesota Vikings but also for the New York Giants as well as Ford Field and their operations."

Sunday afternoon, Vikings personnel were collecting spray-painted advertising templates from the Dome that could be used in Detroit.

The Vikings are "focused on ensuring as smooth a transition as possible," LaCroix said, adding that the team will "not begin to delve into the economic ramifications until we have taken care of the more pressing needs of our fans, our business partners and our football team."

The collapse resurrected the perennial question about the Vikings' hunt for a new stadium. But Vikings co-owner and president Mark Wilf refused to touch the issue Sunday. "Today is not the time for any stadium talk. ... Basically, there's a time and place for the stadium discussion, but right now we're focused on the game tomorrow."

Workers driven from roof

On Sunday, standing inside the frosty structure, Maki said he was on the Dome's roof from 11 a.m. Saturday to about 6 p.m. When the winds grew too strong, he ordered the seven crew members off the roof.

"The wind was so strong, it nearly knocked me on my butt," said Maki, who got a call from crews about 5 a.m. Sunday that the roof had collapsed. He got there by 5:30.

"There was an overstress of fabric due to snow and ice. Certainly we had snow thicker than 24 inches collecting in between some of the [roof] valleys," Maki said, his breath forming steam in the cold air. Looking around the sagging, ripped roof, he insisted that it "is certainly salvageable."

After learning about the collapse, Maki immediately called Roy Terwilliger, head of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.

"It was an extraordinary situation involving Mother Nature that the Dome's roof couldn't handle," Terwilliger said. He added that "normal procedures" had been followed during the blizzard, as workers on the roof used steam and hot water to melt and remove snow.

Heat inside the Dome was also turned up. Hot air was pumped into the in-between layers of the roof, all in an effort to save the inflated roof. "That didn't work," Terwilliger said.

By Sunday morning, aerial shots showed the Dome looking like a cratered souffle.

Asked how much the roof collapse and game delays may cost everyone involved, Terwilliger said he didn't know. "We have business interruption insurance, and we will leave it at that."

He emphasized that the commission is grateful no one was hurt.

A gift gone wrong

Saturday's blizzard was indeed the perfect storm, dumping snow at rates that were faster, colder and windier than during the memorable Halloween blizzard of 1991. The roof did not collapse during that storm.

The weather history didn't mean a hill of beans to Scott Dahlke or his son, who had traveled to the Twin Cities from Tampa, Fla., to see their beloved Vikings and Brett Favre.

Dahlke thought he'd won the surprise of his dreams when his wife of 27 years gave him an anniversary gift: two Vikings tickets to Sunday's game.

Dahlke decided to take his son, Kristopher, an Air Force veteran who just returned from five months in Afghanistan. The game was going to be sweet. They'd see the resilient Favre play one of his last games.

But "then the Dome collapses!" said Dahlke, shaking his head. He and dozens of others braved frostbitten temps and hopped off the light rail to snap photos.

"I love the Vikings and couldn't wait to get up here. I've been waiting to come up here for 27 years. But now the rest of the story is written," said Dahlke, who has been a Viking fan since 1964.

He recently converted his den into a "sports room" with a Vikings theme. But now he has only the photos he took and a program he bought at the Mall of America Friday night to show for the trip.

"It's a program for the game that never was," he said.

Dahlke, 53, is going home with one other thing: bills. Lots of them. "We've got $1,000 to $2,000 invested in this," Dahlke said. On top of hotel bills, tickets and original airfare, Dahlke was forced to shell out another $600 in flight change fees to Delta Airlines. Officials at the airline offered little but sympathy.

"If you ever talk to Favre, at least have him send me a ball," Dahlke quipped. "The Vikings are going to Detroit. I'm going home."

He wasn't the only one.

Mike Kraft flew in Friday from New Jersey. "I'm cursed," said the longtime Favre fan.

He weathered the brutally cold 2007 NFC Championship game in Green Bay and vowed never again. "So I flew out here to see this game. I figured I don't have to sit outside. It's a dome. ... My friends are really giving me grief," he said with a chuckle.

Sid Hartman contributed to this article.