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Duluth meeting gets opinions about new Vikings stadium

By Mike Creger, Forum Communications

DULUTH — Dave Zbaracki’s family has had season tickets for Minnesota Vikings games since the team began play 51 years ago. That means 30 years of watching home games at the now outdated Metrodome.

Zbaracki spoke out at a public listening session Tuesday in Duluth with those planning and designing the new $1 billion Vikings stadium that is expected to open in 2016.

Large facilities should say something about the people who built them, he said. The Metrodome is the antithesis of that maxim.

“It says we’re bland and we collapse under pressure,” he said to a room of about two dozen people. “That’s not who we are.”

John Hutchings could not have agreed more. He will be the manager of the design process for the stadium through the architectural firm HKS Sports and Entertainment.

“For a billion dollars you’d expect to get something to express Minnesota,” Hutchings said.

Hutchings was joined at the Holiday Inn downtown by Vikings executive Lester Bagley and Michele Kelm, the chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

The meeting was part of an effort to get Minnesotans involved in the stadium process, Kelm said, and to reassure them that the final product will reflect the people and the social fabric of the state.

Kelm heard familiar pleas Tuesday in Duluth, urgings she’s heard in similar meetings in Rochester and Minneapolis — make sure there is good physical access to the facility and once inside it; use Minnesota labor and products as much as possible; keep in mind the 355 days of the year when the Vikings aren’t playing; and keep a concourse available for the inline skating that has become popular at the Metrodome.

High bar

Kelm said her job has been made easier because Minnesotans have a quality example of what they could see in the new stadium. It sits across downtown Minneapolis in the form of the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field.

“I think that helped,” she said, in getting the stadium bill passed and in boosting reassurance that the stadium will be built right.

“I use Target Field all the time when it comes to examples of what fans want to see,” she said.

But its success also sets a high bar for those creating the Vikings stadium, she said.

She said she looks forward to the two facilities complementing each other in drawing events to Minneapolis.

The monolithic Metrodome has never done much in spurring economic development in the area of the city it sits in, something Kelm wants to see changed with help from the design of the new stadium, which will eventually take up the space now used by the dome.

She and Hutchings laid out the vision of park-like areas around the stadium that draw people year-round and a human scale to the building that connects it to other areas of Minneapolis. She called the Metrodome a “fortress” that has never made a connection to the city.

If it doesn’t make a big economic impact, it won’t be meeting its goals, Kelm said.

Final designs coming

Half of the schematic design for the stadium will be revealed in January and a final design plan will be out by March, Kelm said. Developers hope to break ground by late next year. More public meetings will be held around the state once the designs are out, Kelm said.

Bagley talked about making the “game day experience” equal to the anticipation fans have for the Vikings each week during the season. He said technology and convenience will draw people who tend to enjoy watching games at home.

While not exactly disparaging what can be found at the Metrodome, Bagley admitted the experience will be improved.

Hutchings said fans won’t see “just block walls” in the new stadium. It will be unique to the state, much like Target Field, he said.

“Minnesota needs an iconic stadium,” he said.

The designs HKS created to win the stadium bid are what Zbaracki wants to see more of. The sports authority said it won mainly for its cutting-edge roof designs.

One shows a roof that plays like a ribbon with plenty of glass. One design has an entirely glass roof with a shape inspired by the igloo. Options for the design include retractable walls or portions of a roof.

It’s that kind of thinking that has Zbaracki excited about one day inheriting the family tickets and entering a stadium he can be proud of.

“I really want to encourage progressive designs,” he said.

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