It’s only been 14 months since the Metrodome’s walls came tumbling down, yet seats are already going into its replacement, the $1 billion glass and steel behemoth that will be home to the Minnesota Vikings. From a hole in the ground, the dimensions of the stadium structure have risen to the point of recognition. Upper-deck seating can be seen from the street. And the east-west ridge truss, the 985-foot stretch that will support the roof, is getting closer to connecting in the middle.
“To me, what’s so amazing is you now go in there and you can see rooms and concessions stands and corridors,” Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen said last week. “People are just blown away by everything that is done.”
The hope is that the seamless momentum of the stadium’s construction will carry over well after it opens in mid-2016. It’s a huge piece of a sweeping reformation of downtown’s eastern edge, which previously appeared to be an afterthought to western downtown’s bounty of theaters, bars, restaurants, transit hub and gleaming Target Field.
If the transfixing massive cranes and heavy equipment on the stadium site are any indication, Downtown East might stand a chance. Last week, 900 workers were on the job there, and, at a cost of $300,000 a month, one of the world’s largest cranes is among those lifting steel, glass and the occasional portable toilet. The project has hit scheduled marks to the day without major problems or injuries, save for a piece of the Metrodome that fell earlier than expected during demolition.
Several mile-markers will be passed in the next 10 days. The Star Tribune will have entirely departed its headquarters at 425 Portland Av. S., clearing the way for the demolition of the building that will be part of Ryan Companies’ $400 million Downtown East project. Ryan’s two Wells Fargo office towers on S. 4th Street are rising on what was formerly parking and an office building for Star Tribune operations.
The sprawling, buzzing construction sites have already dramatically changed the profile of Downtown East.
“You’ve seen surface parking lot by surface parking lot bite the dust,” said Jacob Frey, the Minneapolis City Council member who represents the area. “In no way do I think the stadium steals the show; it becomes part of a neighborhood that will hopefully thrive in the next few years.”
Sometime in the coming week, the first panels of controversial glass will be installed on the stadium. The panes are large and clear, which bird advocates say is deadly to songbirds, especially because the building is near the Mississippi River’s migratory pathway. Kelm-Helgen said she will announce this week that 3M will be ready for a trial of a bird-safe film this summer.
On March 30, westbound Interstate 94 commuters will be forced to find new routes into downtown Minneapolis as S. 5th Street is permanently closed and traffic is redirected to S. 7th Street as part of the city’s project to better connect the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood to downtown and the stadium.
Success in infusing a sense of community into the stadium’s neighborhood would be nothing short of astonishing, given the Metrodome’s 32-year dominance there.
“Unlike the Metrodome, which seemed like a spaceship that had landed and was all fenced off, we’ve got literally four front doors,” Kelm-Helgen said.
She means that the stadium will be accessible from all directions by walking, biking, driving and riding transit. And “you will be able to walk the entire perimeter,” she added.
Aluminum frames are going in for the five 95-foot pivoting glass doors that open onto the western plaza. The doors, which will swing open to a commons area on nice days, are a signature design element of the building.
Frey acknowledges that the new building, which will be nearly double the size of the Metrodome, has become striking in size over the past year. But he notes it’s just one major element in the area’s transformation, which also includes a Hennepin County Medical Center ambulatory clinic, more planned or proposed housing, a commons green space and the county’s redesign of Washington Avenue South.
Machinations needed for the green space are underway, including the creation of a 501c3 nonprofit and preparations for fundraising needed to run it, Frey said. “The ultimate result is going to be a beautiful green space,” he said. “The activity will be through the roof.”
Beyond Vikings games
If Downtown East is getting an entirely new wardrobe, the stadium is the mink coat — a pricey, controversial piece that could become either a showstopping staple or a stinky relic banished to the back of the closet.
“It’s a very aggressive project,” said Minnesota Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley, adding that behind-the-scenes conversations are intense and constant over construction costs and quality. The Vikings’ contribution to the project has grown over the past year because, Bagley said, the team doesn’t want to cut costs.
Opening a top-tier venue is critical to getting people to come for the 350-some days a year the Vikings don’t use it. The team and the MSFA have to be able to fill seats so the stadium doesn’t become darkness on the edge of town.
That work is underway, led by former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Patrick Talty. The MSFA hired sports giant SMG to keep the stadium busy. Talty, their guy in charge here, recently moved to the Twin Cities.
He has two confirmed events beyond the Vikings for now. The 2018 Super Bowl will be played in the facility. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s youth ministry will hold convention events there in 2019, Kelm-Helgen said.
For most of the last decade, uncertainty about the Metrodome’s fate scared off investment in the area, but now it’s happening, Kelm-Helgen said.
“All of a sudden, people are comfortable making investments here,” she said. “I’m sure there’s a lot more to come.”