The State of Minnesota turns 153 years old in May. In that time, there are some things that have never happened. It has never snowed in July (consider that your barroom bet winner of the week). Some have happened once in that span. Among them is the political movers and shakers stepping up to help fund a stadium.
Considering that, in that same span, Minnesotans have served in nine "official" wars (and many more "unofficial" wars) defending the interests of the United States, things that happen only once in 153 years are like lightning hitting the same tree twice. Oh, wait. I know of a tree that has been hit twice by lightning. In fact, there have been two fires in that span that have killed more than 400 people in Minnesota. A tragedy like that has happened twice.
The state has ponied up money to build one stadium in its long and illustrious history. The Vikings first house was a fixer-upper at best – Metropolitan Stadium, a site now located somewhere around the Squidward statue in Nickelodeon Universe on the ground floor of the Mall of America. History is lost on most fans, but, by my best guesstimation, Harmon Killebrew's record setting shot landed in the vicinity of the Rain Forest Café and Reggie Jackson's legendary blast to right field rattled through Hooter's – two floors above where the drunken fan threw an empty Jack Daniel's bottle (he emptied it prior to launching it) and made a dead-center connection to the cranium of referee Armen Terzian in hopes of regaining his sight for missing Drew Pearson's push-off. Oh, yeah. Those fans are still bitter. But it's that lack of history with Minnesota stadiums that might be an unnecessary hurdle to a stadium solution.
I saw two games at Metropolitan Stadium. For the record, the Vikings won both of them by scores of 28-27 and I was hooked on the NFL from that point on. What kid wouldn't be? My toes turned purple and yellow, but that was part of following the Vikings pre-Metrodome. The state stepped up to save the Vikings (ergo the guaranteed lease that expires when the Vikings' 2011 season expires). What they left behind was the man behind the curtain in what made old-school Vikings fans what they were – hale and hardy.
With all the arguments against building a new stadium, one of the big ones is infrastructure. Back in the parking lot at the old Met, going to a Vikings game wasn't a three-hour event. It was eight, 10, 12 and, in some more lamentable cases, 14 or more hours. It was a day trip. With all the bluster and resonant "harrumphs" from senators and representatives opposed to the stadium, there is one simple solution stolen from an Iowa cornfield.
Build it and they will come.
Not to the stadium. To the parking lot.
One of the big contentions about building a new Vikings stadium is that the infrastructure for putting 70,000 fans into a stadium are going to need drastic upgrades to the area in question. Most people understand that traffic is a nightmare leaving any sporting event – ask anyone who left Foxboro Stadium about gridlock.
The main torpedo being shot into the Arden Hills stadium proposal is that the infrastructure costs would be significant. However, infrastructure improvements won't be as big an issue if the facility merely has a parking lot for tailgating.
Politicians may not be in touch with their football constituency, but here's how it works. You have 70,000 fans that come to a game with a massive parking lot surrounding it. They start showing up the night before/crack of dawn – whenever they're allowed to start nesting. By 9 a.m. for a noon game, 20,000 fans are already there. The push comes between 10:30-11:30 on a Sunday, where locals will learn to avoid in their post-church driving plans. As fans get used to the length of the delay getting into the tailgate party atmosphere, as they used to do in Bloomington, they will tailor their drive times accordingly.
Better yet is the exit strategy. 70,000 fans. Noon game. 20,000 will make a break for it immediately, creating a 30-minute snake dance. Another 20,000 will make the decision to wait an hour and leave. Repeat and rinse over the next half hour. A steady stream of people will gather around tricked-out campers with the late game in the local market being shown on TV and filter out between 6-7 p.m. The final 10,000 will pack up their mini-tent cities and head back to wherever it is they are from after 7 p.m.. It won't be 70,000 hitting the bricks at once, which it is with the Metrodome crowd. It will be a crowd that will filter out like melting ice, not flood water.
The current chatter on a site for a potential Vikings stadium ranges from near the Twins new stadium to the Metrodome site to the Arden Hills location in Ramsey County. The main argument against the non-Metrodome sites is that the infrastructure cost to handle the additional traffic is prohibitive.
If the plan is to build somewhere other than the Metrodome site, the schematics will be studied with a fine-toothed comb. Architects consider themselves on the order of Michelangelo of Botticelli. They want to build a showpiece. As hale and hardy Minnesotans, finances won't allow that. It will be a sturdy, no-frills facility in an era of the state-of-the-art showplaces being constructed. That's fine. Just remember one simple rule: Build a stadium around an enormous parking lot! Your infrastructure costs won't be a stiff as you think.
Build it and they will come – and leave over time.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.