Some Elliot Park residents eager to see redevelopment plans revitalize the area.
When plans to build the Metrodome gained traction in the late 1970s, residents in Elliot Park campaigned against the construction. Some of the same advocates continue to live in Elliot Park, but their thoughts about the Vikings’ vision are a bit more optimistic this time around.
“We’re all kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” said Jeff Millikan, a member of the Elliot Park neighborhood board who has met with consultants for the Vikings. “I have to say their group really seems to be energetic and full of good ideas. … They were very upfront with how hideous the current scene is.”
Back when the Metrodome concept was only on paper, residents worried about the traffic and parking impact. They worried the dome would separate the neighborhood from the river and create a wasteland of surface lots around its perimeter.
“Our concerns were very real and for the most part, they ended up happening,” Millikan said. “Maybe traffic hasn’t been as bad as I envisioned, but parking has been worse. … The amount of cement in our neighborhood — it’s incredible.”
Some locals hope that a new stadium district might rid the area of unsightly surface lots. The Vikings are proposing redevelopment anchored by a souped-up light-rail train station with a revitalized Chicago Avenue, an active plaza at the stadium, new live-work spaces and the renovation of historic buildings.
Diane Ingram, co-owner of e.p. atelier, an Elliot Park coffeehouse, said construction of more retail could be a boon to the neighborhood.
“The whole entire project sounds like an excellent idea,” she said. “This neighborhood needs economic development, so let’s go for it.”
In the late 1970s, the controversy surrounding the dome revolved around whether to build the stadium at all. In a November 1978 Minnesota Poll, 42 percent of those polled said “no” to construction of a new stadium, and 38 percent said yes. In March of 1979, a legislator opined that the “superdome” would probably not be built Downtown because there was too much opposition to it. Two state legislators petitioned to put the stadium question to referendum in a last-minute attempt to kill the project, but their efforts fell short. Construction began in 1979 with little fanfare in order to prevent any “bodies under the bulldozers,” published reports said at the time.
The current point of contention for most residents interviewed for this story relates to the source of funding for the stadium itself. The Vikings and the Metrodome managers are lobbying for support from the state Legislature. The officials have warned that if the Legislature does not act in 2008, a new stadium’s completion would be delayed by a year at an added cost of $47 million. If all goes well, the Vikings estimate the total cost of a new stadium with a retractable roof to be $954 million.
George Perkins, a neighborhood resident reading at a picnic table in Elliot Park last week, said he doesn’t mind what the Vikings build “as long as Vikings owner Zygi Wilf pays for it.” He’d like to see more density in the neighborhood.
Elliot Park resident Desi Wiginton, who was reading a C.S. Lewis biography outside e.p. atelier last week, said it doesn’t matter what he thinks.
“I just know his money is going to get him what he wants,” he said of Wilf, adding that he doesn’t think the owner needs a public funding partner in order to build the stadium.
“You can’t stop change,” he said.
The full cost of the Metrodome was close to $124 million, which included investments by the Twins and Vikings. The city paid for reconfigured streets and utilities. Downtown businesses that believed the stadium would benefit the Central Business District also pitched in, providing a $14.5 million contribution in cash and property.
Public funding for construction came from $55 million in bonds that were backed by the city of Minneapolis, in addition to a 3 percent hotel and motel tax in effect from 1979–1983 citywide. That tax fell to 2 percent in 1984, and ended in 1985 after the sale of the Met Stadium. The later sale of the Met Center covered the city’s remaining bond debt in 1998.
When asked about the Vikings’ plans last week, most residents and business owners in Elliot Park had ready answers.
“I’m really old school,” said Joe Su, whose family owns the Dunn Bros at 8th Street and 11th Avenue South. “I think the [Metrodome] is still good. It’s only like 20 years old! If the team wants to move, they can go.”
He is skeptical of the success of any new development surrounding the stadium, and said he wants the neighborhood to remain as it is.
Next door at East Village Grill, Manager Ehab Elsayed said the Metrodome brings more life to Downtown, but he is not interested in new construction that could crowd the area and bring headaches.
Ronnie Taylor, an employee of Macy’s Downtown who was babysitting in Elliot Park, said he hopes a new Vikings stadium is architecturally impressive and that any new construction does not displace existing housing.
Janet Carraher, a Bryn Mawr resident who was visiting Elliot Park, said her main concern is job security for the employees who currently work at the Metrodome. She would like to see low-income housing constructed and green space preserved in any new development.
David Fields, the Elliot Park Neighborhood Inc. (EPNI) community development coordinator, said he does not want a standalone stadium. At a neighborhood meeting last month, he and other residents said they hope a new stadium project creates pressure for better development elsewhere.
Rick Rada, a UPS driver whose route has covered Elliot Park for seven years, said he thinks the neighborhood has cleaned up and drug activity has declined as new residents have moved into condos here. More of that trend would be helpful, he said, so long as the stadium project is funded in a reasonable way.
Some residents said they appreciate the Vikings’ ability to start acquiring the land they would need and therefore avoid the quagmire that land acquisition has become for the Twins’ ballpark project.
“It made me feel very comfortable that they pulled the trigger on the land,” said resident Chris Naumann. “They are not there to make money off the Vikings. It’s a real estate deal.”
Millikan and other longtime locals think they will be savvier when a solid stadium proposal comes their way.
A task force that studied the Metrodome through the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce reported that the dome would be a catalyst for further development Downtown and would generate an investment of $139 million in the Twin Cities metro that would accumulate to $740 million in 1990.
“We were supposed to be thankful for it,” Millikan said. “A core group of us in the EPNI organization felt it was ridiculous. We didn’t want it, but everything was already so entrenched. The utilities for the stadium had all been laid in the ground before any studies were done. … At least that will be different this time around.”
Reach Michelle Bruch at 436-4372 or email@example.com.