Maplewood-based 3M Co. is working with the Minnesota Vikings on an effort to save migratory birds from fatally colliding with 200,000 square feet of glass on the new stadium rising in Minneapolis’ Downtown East.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said Wednesday that 3M has a potentially bird-saving film that could be used on the glass. “It’s a test, and we’ll see what the test shows down the road,” he said.

In recent months, the Audubon Society and other bird lovers have been upset over the decision by the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) to use clear glass on the new $1 billion stadium.

Avian advocates have attended monthly MSFA meetings to protest the lack of glass that might repel birds. But their arguments went unanswered as the football team’s owners ponied up hundreds of thousands more dollars to enhance stadium accoutrements like seating, concessions and elevators.

Bird protectors say the new stadium’s proximity to the critical Mississippi River migratory corridor will cause birds to get confused and collide with the glass, potentially killing thousands. The MSFA and the Vikings, however, declined to install safer fritted glass on the facility.

The team and the MSFA not only balked at the estimated $1.1 million cost of the bird-safe glass, but said the plain glass was already on order and set for delivery.

Team executives say enhancing fans’ experience at the new facility hinges on the open-air design. In contrast to the Metrodome’s opaque bubble, the Vikings’ new home is designed to provide a light, airy atmosphere with extensive use of glass and massive swinging doors.

With its dotted texture and appearance, fritted glass would obscure precious sunlight, team and MSFA officials have repeatedly said. In contrast, the 3M film is invisible to the naked eye.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who wants safer glass for birds, brought 3M into the discussion with the MSFA and the Vikings. The 3M film would achieve the goals of environmentalists and the team by protecting birds and providing a clear view of the sky for fans, Dibble said, adding that another aim is avoiding a lawsuit and legislative action such as a bill to require bird-safe glass.

After the stadium legislation was approved, publicly subsidized construction was required to be bird-friendly. The state is paying $348 million to build the stadium. Minneapolis contributed $150 million. The Vikings now are paying $527 million, up from their initial $477 million.

Dibble said the talks about film on the glass began about three weeks ago.

‘Not too late’ for birds?

Environmentalists took the revelation of talks with 3M as a long-awaited admission by the MSFA that the facility is dangerous to birds and that it’s looking at solutions. “The fact that they’re considering an alternative tells us it’s not too late,” said Lisa Venable, co-founder of Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds. By her estimation, 1,000 birds per year could die after striking the stadium glass.

The group, which was created to campaign for bird-safe glass on the stadium, has not participated in the talks about the 3M product.

Bagley cautioned that the 3M film is only a test right now and not necessarily a cure. Still, he praised the work of the MSFA and the Audubon Society in continuing to seek a remedy from 3M, the world’s leading maker of films and adhesives. “It’s a good idea to see if a great Minnesota company can come up with a solution,” Bagley said.

Venable and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, expressed skepticism. Both say it would be better to embrace a long-term fix, such as the fritted glass, now than later. They noted that the renovation of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan included a retrofitting with translucent fritted glass.

The MSFA had already agreed to less permanent mitigation, signing on to a “lights-out” policy to help divert the birds away from the glass during migration periods.

Testing of the 3M film is expected to begin during this spring’s migratory season.

MSFA Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen issued a brief written statement confirming that the discussions are taking place and calling them “positive and productive.”

Maplewood-based 3M confirmed the discussions but declined to answer questions.

 

Twitter: @rochelleolson