As stadium opens, Vikings and city sail into new era
Published 7:48 am Monday, July 11, 2016
By Rochelle Olson
Minneapolis Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS — As long as it stands, the new U.S. Bank Stadium will be a landmark, a shimmering glass testament to years of persistence, divisive public debate and the brute clout of the National Football League.
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To Minnesota Vikings fans, it represents a renaissance for a beloved 55-year-old franchise still aching for a Super Bowl title. To others, it will never be anything but a misguided $1.1 billion paean to money and sports. To city and state political leaders, it’s big-buck bet to resuscitate a forlorn part of Minneapolis and keep professional football downtown.
This month, Minnesotans get to see what they’re paying for as the building that Gov. Mark Dayton called “the people’s stadium” opens its five signature pivoting glass doors for the first time. Festivities start July 22 with a ribbon-cutting, followed by a weekend open house and free self-guided tours of the main concourses.
Reviews are likely to be mixed. “Minnesota modest” this building is not. The appeal of the stadium, already a distinctive feature of the Minneapolis skyline, remains an open question. Will fans take to it as they did to Target Field in 2010? Or will they trudge into it as they did the utilitarian hump of the Metrodome — despite the two World Series the Twins won there?
“It’s a significant building nationally,” said Steve Berg, who is writing a book documenting the stadium’s already long history. “You have indoor stadiums. You have outdoor stadiums. You have retractable roof stadiums. This is something else.”
It had to be bold, said Augsburg College professor Kristin Anderson, who studies sports facilities. “Every sports broadcast will open with a view of the stadium, the skyline shot, the establishing view of the city,” she said. “If it weren’t distinctive or if it were ugly like the Metrodome, that’s not the statement you want to make.”
It’s aggressive, said architecture critic and author Larry Millett of St. Paul. “It’s the NFL saying, ‘We’ve got the power. We’ve got the money,’ “ he said.
The opening has been more than a decade in the making. Before the Vikings decided to stay in Minneapolis, they flirted for years with Anoka and Ramsey counties: Blaine first, then Arden Hills, courting controversy at every stage.
As the team’s fans brewed up grass-roots “Save the Vikes” efforts, the Vikings let their Metrodome lease run out. They got nowhere with Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s no-new-taxes administration. But DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, taking office in 2011, didn’t want the team to leave town on his watch. He wielded clout at the Capitol as only a governor can and, despite a $5 billion budget deficit, cajoled a bill from the Legislature in May 2012.
After weeks of negotiations that nearly collapsed until team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf agreed to increase their contribution by $50 million to $477 million, the bill passed the House at 4 a.m. after hours of what was described at the time as “bare-knuckle bargaining.” Senate passage came the next day, but the plan faced another hostile audience, squeaking through the Minneapolis City Council on 7-6 vote.
“Sometimes I marvel at how we were able to get this done because it’s a difficult environment over there,” said Vikings vice president Lester Bagley, who started lobbying for a new stadium in 2000.
Unlike the dome, which was done on the cheap for $55 million, the new building is the most expensive public-private partnership in state history. State taxpayers paid $348 million. Minneapolis paid $150 million. The Wilfs’ contribution climbed during construction; their final tab: $602 million.
The Wilfs’ contribution will never be enough for those who dislike the economics of big-time sports, or that a league with $10 billion in revenue expects taxpayers to help pay for their playgrounds. The Wilfs have seen the Vikings’ value climb from the reported $600 million they paid in 2005 to the $1.6 billion Forbes magazine reported last year. Much of that spike came in 2012, the year of the stadium deal.