Vikings hold groundbreaking ceremony for new stadium

After years of drama, supporters celebrate the beginning of construction

(L to R) Michele Kelm-Helgen, Brian Trubey, Mark Wilf, Zygi Wilf, Mark Dayton and R.T. Rybak Credit: Ben Johnson

After years of lobbying, hard-fought political battles at the state and local level and several unforeseen setbacks, the Vikings held a ceremonial groundbreaking for their new stadium Tuesday.

“I feel like Coach Frazier must’ve felt last Sunday,” said Gov. Mark Dayton, referring to the Vikings’ wild 23-20 overtime victory over the Chicago Bears. “I can’t believe it’s over, and I can’t believe we won.”

Hundreds of people — diehard Vikings fans, Vikings employees, media members, elected officials and representatives from many of the construction firms selected to build the stadium — crowded into a heated tent outside the Metrodome to mark the beginning of construction on the 1.7 million-square-foot, $975 million stadium.

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, Dayton, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen, Brian Trubey from HKS Architects, David Mortensen from Mortensen Construction and star Vikings running back Adrian Peterson all gave short speeches to the crowd.

Afterward everyone went outside to watch those influential stadium supporters don purple Vikings hardhats and use gold shovels to ceremoniously break ground.

Flanked by two massive excavators holding up a Vikings banner, they tossed dirt into the air as a drumline played and cameras flashed. Later fireworks went off, sending plumes of smoke into the overcast sky.

“This kind of opportunity, to build an urban project of this scale, only comes along every couple of generations,” Trubey said. 

A long road 

The stadium, which is being funded with $498 million of public money, has had its share of detractors along the rocky road leading to the groundbreaking.

Public perception of the Wilfs plummeted in August after a judge ruled they had “acted with evil motive” in a decades-long civil suit in their native New Jersey. The Wilfs were ordered to pay $84.5 million to the plaintiffs, who were former business partners of theirs, and could face criminal charges stemming from the decision.

As a result of that decision, final negotiations between the MSFA and the Vikings were delayed for nearly a month while the MSFA conducted a “due diligence” probe into the Wilfs’ finances.

On Sept. 13 the MSFA announced that nothing that could jeopardize the stadium’s finances was found during the probe and negotiations resumed on a compacted deadline.

Those final negotiations coincided with the home stretch of 2013 citywide election. City Council’s May 2012 decision to approve the project — and circumvent a provision in the city charter which requires a referendum on all expenditures on sports facilities over $10 million — was a big issue on the campaign trail. Four out of the seven city council members who voted for the stadium, as well as Mayor Rybak, who was an ardent supporter of the deal, will not be in office when the newly elected officials are sworn in next month.

“I want to thank the people that literally put their careers on the line for this great project,” Dayton said at the groundbreaking.

Dayton has repeatedly called the project “the people’s stadium,” in an effort to generate populist support. He was later criticized when the Vikings revealed a plan in October that requires a one-time fee of $500–$10,000 from fans to purchase personal seat licenses for 75 percent of the stadium’s 64,000 seats.

Fees collected from the seat licenses are expected to generate $100 million of the $477 million the Vikings are expected to pay for the construction of the stadium. Another $200 million of the Vikings’ share is coming from a loan and a grant from the NFL, and the Wilfs will also pocket millions from yet-to-be-negotiated stadium naming rights deal.

The Vikings did pledge an extra $41.4 million toward the stadium construction last month. The team did this by agreeing to eat costs associated with playing at TCF Bank stadium for the next two seasons, and raising its contingency fund contribution after construction bids came in higher than expected.

High hopes for stadium’s economic impact

Kelm-Helgen and other stadium supporters have touted the positive economic impact of such a massive construction project. According to a MSFA release, 7,500 tradespeople from 19 different trades will contribute nearly 4.3 million work hours toward building the stadium.

The stadium project hopes to empower and provide experience for women and minorities, who are traditionally overlooked in the construction industry. A goal has been set to have the total workforce at least 32 percent minority and 6 percent female.

“It’s all about Minnesota business, Minnesota jobs, Minnesota economic impact,” Kelm-Helgen said at a recent Elliot Park community meeting.

Kelm-Helgen also said that the new stadium is not just a Vikings stadium.

“I see high schools and colleges from all over the state coming to play baseball, football and soccer in this new stadium. I see little league football coming in the summer time, marching band competitions, Hmong New Year, and of course I imagine there will be rollerbladers as part of this as well,” she said.

Rybak said the five-block Ryan Cos. proposal that is currently working its way through the city approval process will be a catalyst for a surge of new development in Downtown East and Elliot Park.

“I always joke that the Metrodome was like a spaceship dropped into the neighborhood and everyone ran away from it,” said Rybak. “This is going to be like a spaceship too, but instead everyone will be drawn to it out of curiosity.”

Construction actually began on Dec. 2 with excavation and hauling in the big parking lot on the east side of the Metrodome. Crews will work counterclockwise around the construction site from that point over the next two and a half years, and the new stadium is slated to open July 2016.