The tricky question of how to stick a baseball diamond into a stadium designed primarily for professional football has been resolved.
After a nearly monthlong impasse that threatened to delay construction of the new home for the Minnesota Vikings, the team and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority signed off Friday on a seating design for the nearly billion-dollar stadium that seems to satisfy both sides.
The compromise, reached in negotiations over the past month with HKS Inc., the project architect, allows the Vikings to put their fans as close to the action as any NFL team while ensuring a field configuration for baseball that won’t be an embarrassment to the game.
“It wasn’t perfect, but everybody had to compromise to get this resolved,” said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for stadium development.
Said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the stadium authority, which represented the interests of dozens of local baseball coaches, “This was a true compromise.”
The two sides had been at odds for weeks over the configuration of a baseball field in the $975 million downtown Minneapolis facility, which is scheduled to open in 2016 and replace the Metrodome as a multipurpose venue that will host scores of college, high school and amateur baseball games.
The biggest sticking point was the proposed distance from home plate to right field when the stadium is converted from football to baseball.
The Vikings, pushing a seating design that put their fans as close to the football action as possible, favored a configuration that placed the right-field foul pole 285 feet from home plate and the right-field power alley 319 feet away. Both are short by college and professional baseball standards.
Baseball coaches, led by University of Minnesota coach John Anderson, whose team played 37 games at the Dome last year, said that was unacceptable, and lobbied for a foul line no shorter than 305 feet and a power alley of 340 feet.
“Anything less,” Anderson wrote in a Jan. 15 memo to the stadium authority, “would compromise the integrity of the game.”
To make both sides happy, HKS redesigned the stadium’s football seating bowl in a more asymmetrical way to allow for more room in right field when baseball is played.
Bagley said that the two sides worked through about a half-dozen design options to resolve the issue.
Under the agreement, finalized Friday by the authority and team, the right-field foul line will be 300 feet from home plate, with the power alley 341 feet away. To make it more difficult for batters to hit a home run to right field, a 35-foot wall or tarp will extend from the foul line to the power alley.
“Three hundred feet is not the greatest distance in the world for a foul line,” said Tink Larson, a longtime amateur baseball coach in Waseca who has been close to the issue. “But it’s livable and it’s certainly better than what the Vikings were proposing. At least it’s now a legitimate baseball field.”
The Vikings, meanwhile, will still be able to put the first row of football seats 44 feet from the playing field when NFL games are played. Only one other recently built NFL stadium — Lucas Oil in Indianapolis, which was also designed by HKS — puts ticket holders that close.
Some other football seating, including some suites, was reconfigured.
Bagley said that could ultimately affect team revenue.
“We want to make sure people feel those are first-class seats, and if we compromise on quality or number of seats close to the action and suite locations, they might not like it, or won’t pay as much,” he said. “That’s why it was so important to us.”
That said, he added, the compromise “for the most part resolves our issue. What’s important to us is the fan experience and achieving that great, intimate game-day experience. And we think we accomplished that. It keeps our fans on top of the action.”
The state and city of Minneapolis are responsible for $498 million of the stadium’s construction cost, with the Vikings picking up the rest. Had the issue not been resolved, it could have gone to arbitration, potentially delaying a project that is already facing tight deadlines.
A schematic design for the stadium is due to be released sometime next month. Stadium groundbreaking is scheduled for October.