Picture an enormous shard of glass cut into acute angles emerging from the ground. That’s one way to understand the overall look and feel of the new Vikings stadium soon to rise over the Metrodome site.
Now picture stepping out onto a plaza with skyline views and a new light-rail station that overlooks a two-block expanse of greenery bounded by new office towers, apartments and street-level shops, and you begin to grasp the extraordinary transformation at hand for a drowsy quadrant of Minneapolis.
“Dog days are over for East Downtown,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak proclaimed amid a two-day frenzy of development news.
Let’s tour the stadium first. HKS Inc., a Dallas-based architectural firm, has offered a stunning exterior design that resembles no other venue in the NFL and, indeed, looks less like a stadium than like a massive piece of abstract sculpture.
On the interior, lead designer Bryan Trubey offers an expansive lattice of natural light that gives an indoor/outdoor quality to the fan experience and fits perfectly the extreme and unpredictable nature of Minnesota’s climate.
Fans will feel as if they’re sitting in a four-season porch. On warm days, the building’s five glassy pivot doors (each nearly 10 stories tall) will open out onto a festive plaza. On cold days, with the doors closed, light will continue to stream in through windows above each end zone as well as from a clerestory transom that encircles the stadium and a sloping roof of clear polymer that dominates the building’s south side.
The see-through effect more than compensates for the lack of a too-expensive retractable roof. Such roofs are overrated in any case. In football venues, they tend to be less like a convertible top than a sunroof that reveals just a small portion of the sky. They also require massive support structures that subtract from the artfulness of a building.
“We think clear is the new retractable,” said Trubey, referring to ETFE, the glasslike polymer (the same material used on the famed “Water Cube” at the 2008 Beijing Olympics) that will cover the south roof.
Aside from a dramatic “ship prow” that juts out over the plaza, the building’s most striking feature is the single truss structure from which the roof will hang. Trubey said he knows of no other large building in the world that employs this tentlike support system, which helps give the stadium its angular shape.
Minnesotans should be pleased not only with the building’s stark beauty but also with its remarkable versatility. Soccer, college and high school baseball and a whole menu of other uses will augment the NFL’s attractions and put the Twin Cities back in the business of competing for major national and international events, like the Super Bowl, the Final Four, NHL special events and perhaps even World Cup games.
“It’s really an indoor park of sorts,” said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA). “We’ll have no trouble programming this space for 350 days a year.”
For the most part, the city got the stadium it hoped for. It’s iconic and cosmopolitan in its look, and clearly distinctive enough to become a signature building recognizable nationwide. Trubey drew on a Scandinavian (and Minnesota) preference for clean lines and modern sensibility. He was inspired also by Minneapolis’ high bar for cutting-edge design. Indeed, the building takes its place in an impressive litany of sports and cultural updates in recent years, including the Guthrie Theater, the Walker Art Center, the Central Library, Target Field and Orchestra Hall, several of which were designed by world-class architects.
There are disappointments, however. The warm, native stone that adorns Target Field is absent on the Vikings stadium. To compensate, the building needs lush landscaping — especially evergreens — to soften its sharp zinc-and-glass exterior. Skyways, mandated by the legislation, are another shortcoming. They mar the clean design and threaten the outdoor, street-level energy so important to the surrounding district.
The surrounding district’s dramatic transformation was nearly assured when the Star Tribune announced Tuesday the impending sale of five key blocks stretching west from the stadium. Ryan Companies will buy the land for an undisclosed price. On two blocks it plans to build East Village, a $400 million mixed-use complex anchored by two 20-story office towers. The likely occupant will be Wells Fargo & Co., which, if the deal is finalized, could move as many as 6,000 employees onto the site by 2016.
Also integrated into the project are new street- and skyway-level shops and 300 new market-rate rental apartments, most of them overlooking a new park — or, initially, a grassy yard. “The Yard” will occupy the current Star Tribune headquarters site and its main parking lot. The site’s transformation into a park, with trees and amenities, would occur only when private funds are secured.
The city will also build a parking ramp on the fifth Star Tribune block, using proceeds guaranteed by Ryan and the MSFA to repay $65 million in bonds. With those guarantees, and with the Ryan project returning at least $3.5 million a year in property tax revenue, the city feels confident in moving forward. No tax-increment financing is involved. And the Ryan project will receive no city subsidies.
Clearly, the Star Tribune’s business interests are served by Downtown East’s transformation and the newspaper’s related land sale (a prospect this Editorial Board regularly disclosed in editorials favoring stadium legislation). But as we’ve written before, the benefits to the wider community are even clearer.
Indeed, the East Village project may signal an important breakthrough for downtown Minneapolis. For years the city had trouble competing with cheaper suburban locations for midlevel office developments. But now, if the Wells Fargo deal goes through, the city can clearly demonstrate how a rich mix of transit, parks, housing, cultural amenities and other urban assets can attract a new generation of young workers.
Ryan Companies Vice President Rick Collins summed it up this way: “This is a game-changing development.”