Vikings Stadium: Make It Functional, But Don’t Make It Ugly

An early rendering of the proposed Vikings stadium from the same firm that designed, among other stadiums, the Indianapolis Colts' stadium.

An early rendering of the proposed Vikings stadium from the same firm that designed, among other stadiums, the Indianapolis Colts’ stadium. (Via MPR)

There are few cities in the U.S. where pro sports stadium politics has been more dysfunctional than in the Twin Cities. (See: the mess that built the Target Center; Norm Green, the Met Center and the loss of the Minnesota North Stars; Don Beaver’s temptation of the Twins at a time when it seemed like that team would never escape the Metrodome.)

And just when you thought the ink on the deal to bring a brand-new, hard-won $900 million Vikings stadium deal was dry — oh, no:

With the architect’s first schematic design only weeks away, Vikings officials and members of the public authority supervising the project are at odds over how to squeeze a baseball field into a stadium designed primarily for football.

The impasse not only threatens to delay a nearly-billion-dollar project already facing tight deadlines, but also appears to be an early test of just how accommodating the Vikings will prove in the development of a multipurpose “people’s stadium.”

“The problem is you can’t put a diamond in a rectangle,” said University of Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson. His team hopes to take advantage of playing in the new downtown Minneapolis facility that will replace the Metrodome, which for decades has served as a warm and dry venue for hundreds of college and high school teams seeking an early start to the baseball season and refuge from nature’s worst. “Something’s got to give,” Anderson said.

The Vikings, hoping to put ticket holders and stadium suites as close to the action as any team in the NFL, favor a preliminary design that places the first row of seats 44 feet from the football playing field. Only one other recently built NFL stadium — Lucas Oil in Indianapolis, designed by HKS Inc., the architect for the Vikings stadium — puts ticket holders that close.

But that design squeezes some baseball dimensions.

The most glaring — a right-field foul line that extends 285 feet from home plate and a right-field power alley 319 feet away. Both distances are short by college and professional standards, and both are about 20 feet shorter than the design, already scaled back, favored by baseball coaches and the public stadium authority. (Star Tribune)

Okay, first of all, I think this is a non-dispute from a stadium design standpoint. Look at this image of the oft-cited Lucas Oil in Indy. Look closer. See how there are silver-colored floors under a bunch of seats on the field level? That means they fold up on both sides of the field. Conservatively, you could fit a 280-foot baseball foul line between those seats. With creative design or angling of the field, you could easily up that to the 300 feet the U has said it wants.

Not a fan of $900 million publicly funded stadiums? A lot of economists are on your side. But the argument isn’t about building a stadium anymore. From an economic perspective, being a major league city sometimes involves throwing good money after bad.

I feel for baseball coaches. I’m a baseball guy. I’m no great fan of the Vikings. I think the Vikings should make some reasonable accommodations.

But not at the expense of the stadium’s overall design. Taxpayers are spending a lot of money precisely to get rid of a multi-purpose stadium, not to re-build one. It would be nice if that money paid for building that actually honors the state that financed its construction. The wrecking balls that smashed the Kingdome, Cinergy Field, Three Rivers Stadium or Veterans Stadium can tell you what happens when you favor function over form in stadium design.


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