The tab for window treatments to black out U.S. Bank Stadium for the 2019 NCAA Final Four is a doozy — $5.2 million.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the public board that oversees the $1.1 billion building for the taxpayers, authorized spending $4.6 million, with the potential of another $600,000, for what they call the “darkening solution.”
MSFA Chairman Michael Vekich and executive director James Farstad selected two companies: Bluemedia, based in Tempe, Ariz., to cover the plastic roof, and Chicago Flyhouse Inc. for the glass windows and the doors. In all, U.S. Bank Stadium has nearly a half-million square feet of windows and roofing that must be covered to block the natural light.
Bluemedia CEO Jared Smith said that at first he didn’t think it could be done. “This really is a thread-the-needle project,” he said. The design team has to insert the curtains below the roof but above the sprinkler system, a space as narrow as 3.5 inches at some points.
Vekich, Farstad and the stadium operator justified the cost by saying the curtains are a long-term asset that will help attract future events. They will be needed for some religious conferences as well as concerts, they say.
The cost of the curtains will come from the stadium’s capital reserve account, funded by the state and the Vikings, the main tenant. Each contributes $1.6 million a year for building upgrades.
The curtains were the main topic of the specially scheduled monthly meeting, but the MSFA board also adopted the budget for the upcoming year, including staff raises of about 3 percent. Both the raises and the curtains received unanimous approval from the board members present. Tony Sertich was absent.
Several Vikings executives attended the meeting Thursday but did not comment about the curtains. The team has previously said it wasn’t consulted in the process.
In 2014, then-MSFA Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and the local Final Four organizing committee head, Kate Mortenson, won the right to host the NCAA event at U.S. Bank Stadium April 6-8, 2019. The bid was contingent upon the installation of curtains.
The NCAA requires the blackout conditions so lighting in Final Four venues is consistent for all games and shootarounds.
The men’s basketball Final Four is the largest event for the NCAA. The semifinals occur Saturday with the championship game Monday night.
Two different curtain systems will be installed. The glass windows throughout the building and the five giant glass doors on the western side will have one system. The plastic polymer roof will involve a different system of 76 10-foot wide swaths, one for each of the pillows on the southern half of the translucent roof. The roof pieces will be white on the top side and black on the bottom.
Between uses, the drapes will be stored; the hardware will remain in place.
In addition to increasing staff salaries, Board Member Bill McCarthy called Vekich’s compensation “substandard.” He noted that Vekich’s predecessor, Kathleen Blatz, reduced the salary for the chairmanship to $60,000, less than half of what Kelm-Helgen was paid.
Vekich said a panel would be appointed to look into pay.
With their pay increases, finance director Mary Fox-Stroman will be paid $141,763; communications director Jenn Hathaway $105,477; project coordinator Elizabeth Brady $66,841; and accountant Sue Arcand $68,313. Farstad, who was hired in May, didn’t receive a raise from his starting salary of $167,333.