Strange how coincidences change the impact of news. Monday’s unveiling of the new Vikings stadium was drowned out by the passage of the marriage equality bill by the Minnesota Senate. And yesterday, Governor Dayton signed that bill into law, and both national and local media paid lots of attention to that (and rightly so – it’s a big deal)…but at the same time, another plan is announced regarding the future of the area surrounding the stadium. I’m a little conflicted on this plan, but usually that’s the best time to just write down my initial thoughts and see where that takes me, rather than to proclaim “$400 million?!?” or “What the hell is even east of City Hall?!?”
So let’s start with the stadium:
Yeah, it’s kinda ugly, at least from the outside. Years of staring at the soulless Metrodome (and the Target Center) make any “interesting” aesthetic choices quite jarring. From a closer perspective, it appears to borrow some ideas from Target Field – namely the gates on the concourse that open onto the field:
Even the inside looks great, though one thing that is unclear is whether you can see the action from the concourse – one major design flaw of the Metrodome is that you can’t see anything while you’re waiting for nachos or putting ketchup on your hotdog (and seriously, ketchup does not belong on a hot dog anyway, please grow up). I can’t tell from the drawings if they will open up the common area or if they’ll just plaster giant TVs everywhere.
But the stadium itself is less interesting to me than the plans for the surrounding area. Downtown East has always been the black sheep of the seedy Minneapolis development underworld, with blocks of surface lots (reminding us that the Twins used to play here too!) and modestly-sized older buildings. And thanks to the Vikings and monster truck rallies, those parking lots are fully occupied maybe about 20 times a year – that’s a batting average of .054, well below the Mendoza Line.
It’s unfortunate that this is the case, especially considering the stadium’s proximity to actual cool things in the city. But car-centric planning has led us to believe this is the case – do the Mill City Museum and the Stone Arch Bridge feel just a few blocks away from the stadium? Of course not – they may as well be on another planet, given the scenario of walking down a narrow sidewalk with very few businesses, across light-rail tracks, then getting rushed by impatient drivers on Washington Avenue…not my idea of a relaxing trip to the park.
But instead, the ambitious project attempts to connect asphalt-riddled Downtown East with the rest of downtown – according to the Vikings proposal, there are already plans to connect the new stadium to the skyway system (curiously, not pictured below), the closest entrance to which is 3 blocks from the stadium. Here’s a pretty picture of what it will look like:
But this new proposal, which requires $400 million (aside: the source of this funding is never laid bare – it’s just this giant inconceivable figure that is paid in part by the city and in part by the developer, I assume), has a major flaw. Apparently it relies entirely on Wells Fargo occupying these buildings. I don’t know enough about downtown office space to know how these things work, but from the MinnPost article:
Apparently, the bank’s participation in the project is not yet nailed down. One reporter asked if there was a plan B, in case Wells decided to expand its operations elsewhere. The response: “We’re working very hard on Plan A.”
I think this will draw support from the Minneapolis City Council, some of whom are already on their way out the door due to their support of the stadium. But I worry that the only way this development succeeds is if Wells Fargo moves in, and what happens if they don’t? Or if the financial services sector faces another collapse? We have an empty park in the middle of nowhere, and two undesirable empty buildings sitting on the edge of downtown.
While I’m all about open public spaces for people to congregate, I have some serious reservations about this project – there are many things that can go wrong. That said, once you replace a parking lot with a park, it’s unlikely to ever revert to a parking lot again, and that’s a great thing for our city.