How to improve the urbanism of the new Vikings stadium

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The Stadium Implementation Committee meets July 18 and several more times in to September to advise on key design decisions related to the new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis. This post is primarily concerned about the relationship of the stadium to its surrounding urban environment. In late May Oslund & Associates presented the landscape plan for the stadium, and the following are my questions, concerns and recommendations about this plan. I hope the Stadium Implementation Committee considers the following.

Pedestrian access. A common complaint about the Metrodome is for 30 years it has been a pedestrian barrier in downtown East. The design for the new stadium starts to address this issue, and I believe can do much more. As the image below shows, 5th Street and its corresponding off ramp from I-94 would be largely eliminated, and 6th Street along the south side of the stadium would be restored to two-way. I would also suggest that pedestrian crossings be added at Carew Drive and 10th Avenue across 6th (preferably a signal). Coupled with this should be pedestrian access to the stadium itself (the plan currently shows a 29-inch wall, with no pedestrian access). Doing so would benefit people 365 days per year by providing not just additional access to the stadium itself but better connectivity for pedestrians, thus improving the urban fabric of downtown east and making the stadium a better neighbor.

The very same recommendation applies to an additional crossing of 4th Street at Norm McGrew Pl. on the north side of the stadium. Frankly, a pedestrian connection should be made that allows one to walk from the stadium to the river. It is very important that we use this opportunity to get the streets right.

There are an alarming number of skyways. It is my understanding that for new stadiums the NFL requires one climate controlled access for VIPs from a parking structure to the stadium. Can someone confirm this is true and for how many spaces? Although the number of new skyways seems fluid, I find it disturbing that any must be built at all, and furthermore that millions of dollars are proposed to be spent to connect the stadium via skyway through the proposed Ryan Companies development and to the downtown core. I’d prefer zero new skyways, as they are proven to suck the life off of sidewalks, which generally goes against plans for the city to be a more walkable place. But at a minimum, I think a source of revenue should be found so that an equal amount of dollars are spent on pedestrian improvements to sidewalks in the area.

The 2.7 acre plaza might turn out well. On the other hand, now that The Yard is proposed, I question how this plaza will relate to the Yard? Will it be programmed on non-game days or sit fallow for 357? A lot of the talk is focused on those eight game days, and they are no doubt important, but I think the larger question is how do we leverage this opportunity to create a wonderful public asset that is used by people year-round? Even 2.7 acres is a lot of land in a downtown to not be active, not to mention the entire Yard. The Oslund presentation shows images of Bryant Square Park and other vibrant active public places. Let’s make this happen – it will add expense but is critical. The Plaza and Yard have to be a great and seamless public space.

I’m a little concerned about circulation around the stadium. The image below shows the pedestrian path around the stadium isn’t a simple circular route. One must zigzag a bit on the 11th Avenue side. Maybe this isn’t a big deal, but it seems unnecessary.

Is a couple on their wedding day really going to pose for pictures on the 11th Avenue side of the Vikings Stadium? Is it just me, or does this seem a tad unlikely? I’m not trying to be snooty or dismissive, as I like the sidewalk and trees shown in the image (what’s not to like?). But I think we must step back and consider the larger context here. 11th Avenue isn’t much to write home about at this particular location. You may like the Oslund design with its zigzag ramped sidewalk and trees, but do a 360 and look beyond this oasis and you will see a stadium façade, an electric substation, 4th Street that descends in to a trench and either a surface parking lot or another parking ramp with a skyway connection. Why a pedestrian would be drawn to this spot on their wedding day, much less how they will get there, is suspect and doesn’t seem to be addressed in the broader plan for the stadium or downtown east. But maybe that’s just me being a picky urbanist.

The broader point for the Stadium Implementation Committee and the general public on all of these issues is to not be wowed by pretty pictures at this time. Yes, some of this design is very good and deserves praise, but a few things need addressing and they are actually pretty important. Take a hard look at what is planned and how it will be used by the public 365 days per year. As I’ve said before, the Vikings wanted to build their stadium downtown; in return we should expect them to be a good neighbor and fit well in to the urban fabric. Some of these solutions I suggest can be changed by the Vikings, the architect and landscape architect, while others must be made by the city, county and even state. But they can be done, and would benefit the taxpaying public immensely. We can do better, and now is the time to do so.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.