Vikings see the light with design of new stadium

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, May 14, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — Opening the roof over the new home of the Minnesota Vikings would have forced planners of the $975 million project to eliminate some of the fancy features.

So the team, the public agency in charge of the stadium and the architects designing it literally saw the light. The yet-to-be-named multi-purpose facility will have a translucent roof and moveable front windows.

Bryan Trubey, the lead architect for the project for the Dallas-based HKS Sports and Entertainment Group, presented images to a crowd of fans, public officials and members of the Vikings organization Monday night. The event took place at the Guthrie Theater, a few blocks from where the stadium will be built in downtown Minneapolis.

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It will replace the 31-year-old Metrodome, which the Vikings will vacate after the 2013 season. They’ll play outside at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium for two years while the new venue is under construction.

In 2016, the Vikings will move back indoors. From the look of the new 65,000-seat building, though, they’ll feel a little like they’re playing in the elements, albeit with a controlled climate and protection from the rain, wind and snow.

“It’s a beautiful building,” center John Sullivan said after the unveiling.

The steeply pitched roof will let natural light stream in, making the covered, glass-centric stadium seem more like it’s outside. Trubey said the covering will be the world’s largest transparent roof.

“Clear is the new retractable,” he said.

Like the aquatics center in Beijing built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, the southern half of the stadium’s roof will be built with a material known as ETFE, ethylene tetrafluoroethylene. The solar power generated from the sun that streams in will help make the building more energy-efficient.

The slope of the roof will also allow for easier snow removal. The Metrodome’s Teflon roof infamously collapsed during a storm in December 2010, forcing the Vikings to play their last two home games that season elsewhere.

Team owners initially preferred an open-air stadium to return to the franchise’s cold-weather roots at suburban Metropolitan Stadium, where the Vikings played — and sometimes froze — from 1961 to 1981.

But the only way to get public help in paying for the project was to enclose it, ensuring the ability to host other sports and events. The Vikings have submitted a bid to host a future Super Bowl, and local leaders have envisioned hosting NCAA basketball tournament games, big-name concerts and the like.

With NFL attendance in a tough competition for customers with today’s in-home high-definition televisions, the Vikings have also focused on creating a fan experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere, from special lounges for following fantasy football results to intimate sightlines to the sidelines. Two giant scoreboards will measure more than 50 feet by 120 feet each.

“It’s very important that fans feel they’re not watching it from a blimp, that they’re watching it from close to the field,” chief executive officer Zygi Wilf said last year after the bill was finalized. “That’s very, very important. We underestimate that when we go to other stadiums, the fan experience, sit in those seats and see how it would be, and a lot of stadiums don’t have the closeness as we’re trying to get here.”

Dozens of purple-jersey-clad fans snatched up the limited amount of free tickets available to the public, singing a couple of bars of the team fight song, “Skol Vikings,” before the program began.

They cheered the handful of key officials who helped shepherd the project to approval through the tricky channels of state and city politics. One of the luminaries who appeared on stage to tout the design was former Vikings head coach Bud Grant, who took the team to four Super Bowls.

“I’ve always been an advocate of outdoor football,” Grant said. “Not anymore.”

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority unanimously approved the design, forwarding it on to the city of Minneapolis for review.

Minnesota lawmakers hoped they could pay for the stadium without new taxes, relying instead on electronic gambling devices in bars and restaurants to cover $348 million in state debt.

But establishments and their patrons have been slow to embrace the new games, and the money has been barely trickling in. The law gave state officials the power to launch a new scratch-off lottery game and impose suite taxes to cover any gaps, but there has been no indication they will.

Instead, Gov. Mark Dayton and top legislators are working over various options, including a new sports memorabilia tax, to make up the difference.

Bonds to pay for stadium construction are supposed to be sold in August, but the state might alter the process to keep costs down. They’ve insisted that construction will proceed as scheduled.

The Vikings and the NFL are on the hook for $477 million, including a $200 million loan from the league. The city of Minneapolis will contribute $150 million, through redirection of existing hospitality sales taxes.

“We’re using public money, but at the same time it’s going to benefit the public,” Sullivan said. “In my mind, as a taxpaying resident of the state of Minnesota, that seems like a good way to spend our tax dollars.”