If there is a billion dollar view to be had in Minnesota, it is from the concourse above the lower bowl on the east side of the stadium. There I stood last Wednesday, leaning one of those tall tables that line the concourses, beer in hand, gazing across the immaculate grass field toward the downtown Minneapolis skyline. The early evening sun was streaming in the huge west windows, casting long shadows on the soccer pitch, shining on me and several other fans as we excitedly awaited kickoff between Chelsea and A.C. Milan. It was cool to be part of this historic moment: the first game at U.S. Bank Stadium. (Being part of history – Grade: A)
I was among more than 60,000 people who attended the first game last Wednesday, and like thousands of others, I arrived quite early to gawk at the new stadium. My first stop was The Commons, the new park apparently created for taking selfies in front of the stadium. Let’s call it the “Zygi View.” I’m not exaggerating; it seemed the only people park were taking selfies on the Great Lawn. Luckily the plaza immediately in front of the stadium, Medtronic Plaza, was hopping, which makes me wonder if The Commons is really needed as part of the stadium deal. (The Commons – Grade…more on that later)
Medtronic Plaza faces the main entrance to the stadium itself, with the biggest front doors in the state (and you know how much I like front doors!). A.C. Milan and Chelsea both had booths, and people were generally hanging out, being merry, taking photos of the shiny facade looming nearby, and parking their bikes. Yes, bicycle parking is plentiful, well-used and highly recommended. Although the security lines split the plaza space in two, Medtronic Plaza works well as a pregame gathering space, and the grand front doors of the stadium are a massive improvement over the Metrodome. As nice as Target Field Plaza? No, but still a very good pregame gathering space at the front door of the stadium. (Stadium Front Door and Plaza – Grade: B+)
The rest of the stadium perimeter? Dreadful. Between security fences and infrastructure, it is nearly impossible to even walk around the stadium. And the bollards in the middle of the bike path on 6th Street? Inexcusable. But to be fair, show me a stadium that is pleasant to walk around. (Stadium Exterior Urbanity – Grade: D)
Once inside, the first view of the field and cavernous stadium was rewarding, as fans packed the concourse taking yet more pictures. For the soccer game, the crowd was pleasantly diverse, about what I expected for a soccer game. I admit, I’ve never been to a soccer game in my life, and it was fun to cheer for both teams’ goals, as there was no home team (there were more Chelsea fans). The stadium is a little too big for soccer (football, too?), and I look forward to the more intimate 20,000-seat soccer stadium in St. Paul. Other drawbacks included no Polish sausage, only brats (seriously, Kramarczuk’s!?), the fact that future games will be played on Field Turf and not grass, and the stadium is indoors. Football should be played outside on grass. I’ve been to Lambeau, folks, and the Vikings made a huge mistake. (Stadium interior/game experience: Grade B)
I arrived at the game via easy trip on the Blue Line. The new pedestrian bridge over the tracks is a whole lot of stupid. The security fences require fans to unnecessarily squeeze through a choke point before ascending the steps, only to be required to take three left turns upon descending on the stadium side. When you need signage reading “turn left at end of bridge to enter” you’ve screwed use somewhere. Good luck with the light rail, Vikings fans. Ride your bike to the game. This makes me wish some of the public money for the stadium were used to tunnel the Green and Blue Lines.
Leaving the game, I could see a massive crowd at the train platform, but I noticed express buses to the Blue Line park and ride lots. Rather than herd people on to standing-room-only trains, these buses depart once the seats are filled, so I rode in nonstop comfort to Fort Snelling, and backtracked on an empty Blue Line train back to 38th Street which is a bit convoluted but I was glad I did when I learned the last riders left the Downtown East platform 90 minutes after the game ended. (The biggest crowd control problem at the new soccer stadium is going to be managing passenger access to those center median rail platforms on University Avenue.) In fairness to Metro Transit, they threw everything they had at that game – even eight-car trains near Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium have trouble accommodating 15,000 postgame fans. So my advice is this – ride your bike. How can you beat free parking in front of the stadium!? Or, if you ride the train, go for a walk on the Stone Arch Bridge after the game. Grab a drink. Or get lost in the skyways; anything to kill a little time and let the crowds die down. (Transit Experience at U.S. Bank Stadium – Grade C, with room for improvement)
Overall U.S. Bank Stadium is very nice, and I was glad to be there for its first game, and sort of tickled it was a soccer game. But the question remains, is that billion dollar view really worth it? I’m not going to begin to answer that here, but no, it’s not. There is just no way to divorce the massive public subsidy and the resulting facility. Sure, the stadium is really nice. Then again, for a billion dollars, we sure as hell better have gotten something this nice. We spent half as much on Target Field, and about a quarter as much public money, which is much more in line with what what seems acceptable to me. Plus, Target Field is truly wonderful, the skyline view is better, and it doesn’t hurt that the Twins won two championships, providing treasured childhood memories, so I’m a little more willing to give them some slack. But yes, U.S. Bank Stadium is an improvement over the Metrodome, both inside and out, and I’m sure football fans will enjoy games there for a few years before we have to replace it. And thank god it’s skyway connected. (Worth the state and city money – Grade F; worth Zygi money: Grade A)
I’m not really a fan of outdoor stadiums. Once a year or so someone gives us tickets and we go to a sports games. I was at a Twins game in October and it was cold and miserable. The Metrodome would have been a big improvement.
The other problem is what happens to all the other events if you replace the Metrodome with an outdoor stadium? Perhaps the thing to do is to build an outdoor stadium in Arden Hills or wherever for the Vikings and leave the Metrodome alone for other events, but i don’t know how feasible that would have been.
Monte raises a good point. There were a whole lot of games played at the Metrodome, like high school tournaments for baseball and football, to name a few. That was part of the argument for the public – that U.S. Bank Stadium will serve the same purpose. Of course, one path to take was to leave the Metrodome alone and build a new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills. I don’t know if that was ever seriously considered, because keeping the old ugly/beloved Metrodome purely for non-headlining events didn’t result in a fancy ribbon cutting for Minneapolis.
I also don’t think an outdoor NFL stadium was ever considered in Minnesota. We’ve grown soft. And that’s OK, except that I do believe the Vikings would be more competitive with an outdoor stadium. But in the long list of stadium criteria, competitiveness and mystique rank low, well behind revenue and hosting the Super Bowl, etc. I have to say, I’m willing to be Vikings fans would rather go to a Super Bowl than host one….
Way back in 2006 Wilf and crew proposed an outdoor stadium in Blaine http://www.mprnews.org/story/2006/02/17/vikingsplan
I’m not a fan of outdoor stadiums for sports that will be played in December and January.
I suspect in fifteen years Target Field will still be beloved (assuming that the team makes some progress) but US Bank Stadium will be pretty puzzling. The concourses are considerably less open than most new stadiums and include confusing dead ends on the bottom level. And for a billion dollars plus, the finishing details are lacking – just acres of gray concrete compared to TF’s beautiful limestone. Finally, I thought the outdoor games at TCF were fun, and it’s sad that so many people who live in this cold state are unwilling to spend three hours outside in the winter. It’s too late now, but I can’t stop wishing we had built a slightly larger TCF on the Metrodome site for college football, NFL, and MLS.
Always hard to predict the future, but Target Field is just six years old but does have a certain timelessness. It is a special place. I’ve been to perhaps three dozen games there, granted, most of them losses, and I can’t find many flaws.
Time will tell. Let’s circle back after a few football games have actually been played at Sandcrawler Stadium (resembling a Star Wars vehicle isn’t necessarily a bad thing!).
I’ve not been to US Bank Stadium yet but agree. I think from a purely aesthetic standpoint, interaction with the city, and outdoor enjoyment that Target Field will be a lasting and beloved element of the city that few if any will ever want to tear down.
US Bank Stadium will last longer than The Conservatory (that it reminds me of), but perhaps not much longer.
I’m not convinced the Twins won’t be asking for a new stadium in another 15-20 years or so. It seems the lifespan of a professional stadium is about a generation nowadays. And if you don’t like the US Bank stadium most of us will live to see it replaced.
Question: if we knew a stadium only had to last 25 years could we build them cheaper structurally?
Have any of the latest round of new baseball parks been replaced yet? Camden Yards was the first of the new retro parks, opening in 1992. I don’t think there’s a movement to replace it yet. I think a park that’s done well – which I think includes Target Field – will have a life longer than 25 years.
I haven’t been in it, so I don’t know if US Bank stadium is one or not.
Adam, you are right. Camden Yards marked a new era for baseball parks. If I’m not mistaken, only Dodger Stadium, Fenway and Wrigley are older. Have any newer baseball parks been replaced? Only in Atlanta, right? I think the point that this new generation of baseball-only parks will last longer than their multi-use predecessors, particularly the really good ones like in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, San Diego, etc. But time will tell.
Thanks to Wikipedia I can say: Angel’s Stadium, the Oakland Coliseum, Kauffman in KC, Rogers Centre (nee Sky Dome), Tropicana, and US Cellular all opened before Camden too.
I hadn’t followed the situation in Atlanta, but a quick glance makes me wonder if they aren’t making a big mistake.
Great post Sam. I’m a huge fan of outdoor stadiums but can also be a bit of a winter wimp. Any idea what the event impact would have been with an outdoor stadium? Vikings attendance seemed to do OK outside the past couple of years? What impact on other events that couldn’t be scheduled during warmer or less precip months?
I attended the soccer friendly as well. Overall it was great. I like the new stadium a lot, but it certainly has flaws like you mention. I’m mostly disappointed at the ticket prices. I paid $120 for my soccer ticket. Looking online I see prices for most Vikings games starting at $300. Some tickets for Lions games were selling for about $80 a piece though. But most lower bowl seats are selling for $1,000. Some “People’s Stadium”. A 50 yard line seat in the lower bowl for the Packers game…$2,500.
I’ve never attended an NFL game despite being a big fan. I do plan to go to at least one Vikings game this year. But at the prices there charging, I won’t be attending many future ones.
For those who haven’t watched John Oliver’s bit on stadium subsidies, it’s worth a look – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcwJt4bcnXs
Good post Sam.
I was able to tour the stadium during the open house a few weeks back and had many of the same thoughts. However, I really like that it is an indoor facility because it will be useful for so many events throughout the year. Also, because of all the glass on the roof and walls, it feels a lot like being outdoors.
The open house was on a hot, sunny day and I really noticed all the concrete in the plaza. I wish there was more green and some shade.
Finally, it’s disappointing how bland the street-level experience around the stadium and Downtown East has turned out so far. Obviously it’s all better than parking lots and the Metrodome, but that’s a low bar.