Vikings Break Ground On Billion-Dollar Stadium

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The new Vikings' Stadium is reminiscent of the Beijing Olympics' Water Cube. (HKS/AP)
The new Vikings' Stadium is reminiscent of the Beijing Olympics' Water Cube. (HKS/AP)

The roof of the Metrodome, where the Minnesota Vikings play, has collapsed three times. The team threatened to leave if they don't get a new home. This week, the Vikings broke ground on a new $1-billion stadium. Minnesota Public Radio's Tim Nelson joined Bill to discuss controversy behind the stadium's design and financing.

BL: Tim, I would guess that there was a festive mood at Tuesday's groundbreaking?

TN: Very much so. It has been a long and controversial process to finally get to this point in building a new stadium. It took a 10-year debate in the legislature. Two years of talking it over with the lawmakers before they final stuck a deal between the state and the Vikings. Finally they put the shovels in the ground this week.

BL: Well describe this new stadium for me because I’m curious what you get for $1 billion.

TN: Well it's this giant roofed cube with what looks like a ships prow sticking up on one end. The design is taking some cues from the Water Cube in Beijing. They're using that same transparent material — it's a plastic called ETFE — for the roof. That's what made that aquatic center look like it was glowing from inside.

Now, there was a lot of interest in making this a retractable roof to open up on those few days here in Minnesota when it isn't snowing. But the designers decided that was too expensive and impractical, so they made the south slope of this roof transparent. They're calling it the new retractable and say it's going to be more energy and cost efficient than roofs that open up. So the Vikings are going to get a big upgrade and they'll know that the roof won't fall in on them.

BL: The state is kicking in about half the cost of this new stadium, and governor Mark Dayton seems pretty happy with that arrangement saying, "People all over this metropolitan area who've been sitting on the bench will be working over the next couple of years on this project." We have heard that sort of logic before on Only A Game before. Are the taxpayers of Minnesota buying it?

TN: Yeah, Minnesotans love their Vikings. There's no question about that. They have like a 66 TV share, so two-thirds of the TVs in Minnesota on a Sunday afternoon are watching the game. Back when Minnesota cut this deal, the Vikings stadium lease was ending and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and vice president Eric Grubman were coming here regularly and calling in to radio shows and telling Minnesota that the league was close to declaring a stadium impasse here. Now that's the league term that would trigger a relocation. That came just as promoter AEG was rolling out these fancy renderings of a new NFL stadium in Los Angeles, so there was some real fear here that the state could actually lose the team.

BL: Republican state Senator Dave Thompson, who's also a candidate for governor, has been among those critical of the funding for this project. He said, 'It's wrong. It shouldn't have been done, and this governor should be held accountable.' Why did the state government agree to foot so much of the costs of this stadium? Was it simply a matter of being afraid they would all lose their jobs if the Viking left the state?

TN: That had to be a factor. The NFL seemed to be legitimately threatening to take the team away. But you know there's another part of this story too. As you know it gets darn cold up here and if you want a big community event with 64,000 seats, you just don't have a lot of options up here in January. There's a monster truck show here this weekend, and we've got temperatures in the single digits. No one is going to sit in the stands to watch cars getting crushed if they risk frostbite.

And there are literally hundreds of uses for this large, heated, public space here in Minnesota. People fly radio-controlled airplanes in it. We hold the state high school football and soccer championships there. There's marching band competitions and winter rollerblading around the outer concourse of the stadium. This building really is Minnesota's collective recreation room and since the state insisted it was going to own it, run it, and retain the right to have the University of Minnesota Gopher baseball team play in there in March — the state had to pay.

This segment aired on December 7, 2013.


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