Wielding waterproof Sharpies, Minnesota Vikings stadium construction workers in jeans sloshed alongside the tailored-shirt crowd Thursday to inscribe a steel beam topped with an evergreen tree and a U.S. flag.
The beam was to be hoisted into place as part of the “topping-out” tradition on construction projects that usually caps completion of a building’s highest spot.
The actual lifting of the tree-topped beam onto the U.S. Bank Stadium roof was delayed until Friday due to lightning, but the ceremony went off despite the rain.
Some 1,400 construction workers and 400 politicians, business leaders and bureaucrats — all in neon vests — occupied the muddy area where the playing field will be.
“Just 10 months from now, this building will be ready to accommodate 40 times the people,” Mortenson Construction executive John Wood said as he looked out on the crowd from a temporary stage.
Names in multiple colors of ink filled the beam: “Andrew Anderson 9-17-15,” “Sko … Vikes, Ian Keplar,” “God Bless America, Kevin Warren” (the team’s corporate counsel) and “Native Ironworkers #75.”
Owner Zygi Wilf signed his name and added “Skol Vikings.”
At its highest point, the stadium’s ridge truss is 270 feet. It’s a mostly vertical piece that has been in place for months.
The $1.1 billion stadium is the largest public-private project in state history. The doors will open for the 2016 NFL season and the main features — the concourses and seating areas — are taking shape. Purple seats already line several upper sections.
One trio of guests proved popular: Vikings greats from the 1970s, including defensive end Carl Eller, running back Chuck Foreman and defensive tackle Alan Page, the recently retired state Supreme Court justice.
Wood’s speech recognized some 4,000 workers who had toiled on the site since demolition and construction began in January 2014, shifting into a somber moment of silence in recognition of Jeramie Gruber, a 35-year-old who was killed in a fall from the roof in late August. A second worker survived the same accident but suffered a massive gash to his leg.
The workers took their hats off and stood still and silent in the steady rain.
Owner Mark Wilf spoke about building a “destination that could redefine this area.” Zygi Wilf later said the team wants both the stadium and a planned Eagan practice facility project to “attract people from everywhere for generations to come.”
The Wilfs now are covering $566 million of the stadium’s cost. Taxpayers are paying almost $500 million.
Most of those at the event had seen the stadium on many occasions, but former Vikings Foreman and Page were seeing the inside for the first time. Page remarked on how tight the sidelines were because the seating is so close to the field.
Foreman, 60, recalled Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, where he played and where the Mall of America now stands. He praised the “big and beautiful” bones of the new building, but was otherwise restrained.
The old one had history, he said. “We’ll see if this one makes history,” he said. “They’ve got the building; now they’ve got to perform.”