"They should have held this in the Dome," someone quipped.

Very true. Close to 300 people jammed into International Market Square Monday afternoon for the first of four informational meetings held by Mortenson Construction and partner Thor Construction for prospective contractors interested in bidding on the $975 million Vikings stadium. They took up every available chair, and hugged the historic building's brick walls clutching information packets and listening intently.

"People must have been thinking we'd be serving beer or giving out free Vikings tickets," said John Wood, senior vice president of Mortenson, the stadium's Golden Valley-based general contractor.

The stadium, which will break ground this October, has a $715 million construction budget. Mortenson expects to forge about 100 direct contractual relationships for the job. But that doesn't even include subcontractors.

Beyond that, the legislation enabling stadium construction set goals for minority and women-owned business participation of 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Veteran-owned businesses will be given extra attention, as well, although no numeric percentage was set by lawmakers.

"I'm what you'd call a 'sub-sub' contractor," said Clifton Robbins of Minneapolis-based Varner-Matt Signs. His firm has worked on electronic signage at TCF at the University of Minnesota and at Target Field. "It's kind of surreal, when you go by a stadium and see your work up there," he said, noting that he thinks the glassy design of the Vikings stadium looks "pretty cool."

Mortenson has set aggressive goals for "substantial completion" by July 1, 2016. "A lot of you who have worked with me in the past know that 'substantial completion' means done," said Dave Mansell, general superintendent of the project for Mortenson.

After about an hour of presentations from the construction team, the floor was opened for questions. Only a few attendees took the opportunity. Instead, the meeting ended and presenters were mobbed afterward.

"This is when people really ask questions," Wood said.

Three more meetings are planned for out-state locations: Rochester, Aug. 6, Marriott Hotel, 101 1st Av. SW; Duluth, Aug. 7, Greysolon Ballroom, 231 E. Superior St.; Mankato, City Center Hotel, 101 E. Main St. All sessions will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Janet Moore covers commercial real estate for the Star Tribune.

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