With only six months to go before the kickoff for the Minnesota Vikings’ home preseason, the team is still scrambling for tailgating space near its new home in a rapidly developing end of downtown Minneapolis.
The team is assured of only 125 tailgate spots that it owns across the street from the new stadium. Although some private owners are likely to allow their lots to be used, some of the 500 to 800 spots the team says it needs to meet fan demand could be up to a 15-minute walk away. And even with those, that’s roughly a third of the spots that were available in Metrodome days.
The team says it’s working hard to address the issue, including a proposal to expand the city’s zone around the stadium where tailgating with alcohol is allowed. But that depends on neighborhood input and City Council approval in the coming months.
“It is something our fans have grown to expect,” said Lester Bagley, the team’s executive vice president, noting the camaraderie among tailgating fans.
The situation puts some fans in a quandary, including Karl Heinrichs of Stillwater. On game days, he adopts the persona of Sir Death in the Viking World Order fan club. But tailgating more than a block or so away from the stadium is impractical once he dons a helmet, boots and other regalia.
“I can’t walk for six blocks from the tailgating to the stadium with all my stuff,” Heinrichs said. He said he’ll choose costume over tailgating if he can park in a closer ramp, but it’s a painful choice for a superfan who travels the NFL’s tailgating circuit.
The team plans to inform its anxious tailgaters of the steps it’s taking, and it wants to start marketing tailgating lots. “We’re coming down to crunch time,” Bagley said.
Urban site challenge
Less space for tailgating was one of the trade-offs the Vikings made when they opted to build downtown on the site of the old Metrodome over a suburban Arden Hills location they had previously considered. And the larger footprint of the new stadium erased team staff parking. Those employees are being displaced to two other nearby lots with 171 spaces that formerly were used for tailgating.
But the biggest factor, eliminating 822 tailgating spaces spread across three blocks, was the Star Tribune’s sale of its property for the Ryan Cos.’ Downtown East redevelopment.
Spaces in those three blocks had been leased by the team for use on game days, a practice that the team said it didn’t make money on despite charging as much as $400 for a season pass.
Other development unfolding in the area has left just 14 available parking lots in the area. They potentially offer about 1,800 spaces, but that hinges on city approval of the expanded zone and property owners’ willingness to allow tailgating.
That zone has been discussed with neighborhood associations representing the area. Elliot Park Neighborhood Association ruled out most of the neighborhood for tailgating with alcohol, vetoing areas near residences, churches and North Central University, which discourages consumption of alcohol by its students.
“It was a very cordial, good dialogue,” said Paul Freitag, a North Central administrator who was part of the neighborhood panel that negotiated with the team.
A nine-block zone expansion east and north of the stadium is under consideration by the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association.
A neighborhood meeting on the topic last month drew at least as many tailgaters as neighborhood residents. A recommendation headed for the association’s Tuesday board meeting would add all of the blocks the Vikings seek except for areas by two condo buildings on S. 2nd Street.
“The Mill District is now very much a neighborhood,” said City Council Member Jacob Frey, who represents the area. “Any tailgating zone needs to ensure that the trash is picked up, noise is at a reasonable level and tailgaters are respectful.”
Lot owners mixed
If the city approves the expanded zone, the Vikings will approach lot owners to see if they’re willing to allow tailgating on game days, when some fans start as early as 6 a.m. So far, there’s mixed reaction.
The Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society said that it made about $8,000 per season subletting its lot for Twins and Vikings parking and that it hopes to host tailgating again. Hennepin County owns a 110-spot lot across from the stadium but said it hasn’t been approached so far. The Valspar Corp. said it doesn’t want tailgating at its lot for safety and security reasons.
Timeshare Systems, with several area properties, is open to tailgating on some but not all of them. “We want to make sure it is done respectfully,” said Varun Kharbanda, a Timeshare vice president.
The Vikings tout opportunities for pregame festivities in the Commons park and elsewhere. There’s also been discussion of remote tailgating at stations along the light-rail lines that connect to the stadium. But Bagley said tailgaters like to be close to the stadium.
Some fans like Heinrichs say that’s crucial, but he’s skeptical of the Commons.
“Most people think the park is just their way to get you to pay $8 for a beer so you’re paying them outside the stadium,” he said. “People like to grill their own food and drink their own beer.”