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)