A pandemic and global downturn in travel didn’t stop the opening of the new Nordic-themed Omni Viking Lakes Hotel, a key component of the NFL team’s complex in Eagan.

“We did have a decision to make along the way: Do we still want to open? The answer we came to is yes,” Don Becker, executive vice president for real estate and development for the Minnesota Vikings, said on Wednesday.

The 320-room hotel is set to open Thursday, including its Idlewild Spa, Ann Kim-led Kyndred Hearth restaurant and the Ember & Ice lounge and bar. But with travel depressed from the corona­virus pandemic, nobody’s expecting to fill the rooms quickly — and that’s OK.

Hotel operators are banking on a future without COVID-19 as conference organizers look to book in coming years. “They want to know the hotel is open for business,” Becker said.

Opening for business was the focus this week with the whirl of activity behind the scenes at the hotel prepping for the debut.

The hotel is an original component of the live/work/play campus envisioned by MV Eagan Ventures, operated by Mark, Zygi and Leonard Wilf, the Vikings’ owners, in 2016 when they bought the land to move the team headquarters from Winter Park in Eden Prairie. The developers bought and chose to relocate to the larger Eagan campus that once served as the headquarters for Northwest Airlines.

The NFL football team and its new e-sports franchise Røkkr have already moved in. There’s also the full-service Twin Cities Orthopedics clinic and lots of walking and biking paths among the newly planted trees on nearly 200 acres. Next summer, 261 apartments will be built and open for renters. Future phases are expected to involve more office space and retail and entertainment destinations.

Entering the mix now is the 14-story Omni hotel, the first from the chain to open in Minnesota.

Hotel rooms feature sweeping views of the leafy campus as well as views of downtown Minneapolis. The design of the building nods to the Scandinavian heritage of the region and aimed to complement the woodsy surroundings that include lakes and walking paths.

General manager Brent Glashan was candid about the challenges. “I don’t think we’re naive enough to think we’re going to fill up anytime fast, but we thought it was important to get open and build momentum,” he said.

The hope is that leisure travelers will consider driving to the hotel as a break from isolation, a “safe and clean place” where they can “be relaxed and have some fun and not be focused on hiding at home.”

They’re also hoping that the restaurants and lounges in the hotel will become draws on their own.

Omni partnered with James Beard Award-winning chef Kim for the flagship restaurant, Kyndred Hearth, on the first floor with direct access from outside. The restaurant opens with dinner service Thursday night and will feature Kim’s signature wood-fired pizzas along with housemade pastas, meat and fish.

The initial plan was to open the restaurant for breakfast and lunch as well, but that’s been trimmed for now.

Above Kyndred Hearth is Ember & Ice, a cozy lounge with comfortable spaces and televisions inside and out.

As the hotel waits and hopes for the public to return, it does have a built-in fan base in the Minnesota Vikings. The team’s players will spend the night in the hotel before home games.

Glashan said they’re also eyeing future training camps as draws for guests. But opening during a pandemic has an upside: the ability to hire staff — even if it’s a smaller one for now.

“I can’t even express how excited people are to come in and have these jobs,” Glashan said.


Twitter: @rochelleolson