Traffic, parking, crowds top local concerns over U of M stadium

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A 50,000-seat outdoor football and event stadium at the University of Minnesota raises questions for some about crowds, drinking and behavior, traffic and parking, noise, lights, and concerts, not to mention air quality, storm drainage, soil contamination, and dust, trucks, and vibration during construction.

Others look forward to renewed campus spirit at home games and anticipate benefits to local businesses and employment.

Responses to these questions are outlined in the 160-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the university by consultants. It is the next step in the university’s efforts to build a stadium to bring football back to the East Bank campus.

A finished environmental impact statement, incorporating public comments, is expected to be considered by the university regents in February, with opportunities for public testimony expected Jan. 17–31, according to Brian Swanson, university project coordinator. Whether the public may speak at the meeting is at the discretion of the regents, Swanson said, but he noted the chair permitted public participation at the meeting to consider earlier stadium documents.

The regents will decide, as part of the approval process, if the document is adequate. The 30-day public comment period on the draft ended Nov. 23.

The study, however, may appear academic, considering the state has yet to act on funding 40 percent of the total $235 million cost. Funding by the university includes a commitment by TCF Bank for a 25-year, $35 million corporate sponsorship set to expire at the end of December.

The horseshoe-shaped football stadium is proposed on a 68.4-acre site now occupied by the Huron Boulevard parking lots, close to Mariucci Arena and the Williams Arena/Sports Pavilion complex. It is east of Oak Street and north of University Avenue. The project would include replacing surface parking. Some roads would be realigned. The stadium would also house the university marching band and provide a location for recreational sports and other university events, the report states.

If full funding is obtained, and the environmental statement is adopted by the university regents, the next step would be a one-year architectural design stage, according to Jan Morlock, director of university community relations.

Swanson, project coordinator, acknowledged concerns that parking will spill into the neighborhoods, and asked for suggestions. “We want people to park in our lots,” he said. There is mutual interest, he said, because the university wants to earn parking revenue.

Residents and business owners near the proposed stadium spoke at several recent meetings. Nearly 40 people attended a November university public meeting, held at University Lutheran Church of Hope, to comment on the proposed stadium project outlined in the draft envionmental impact statement.

Concerns focused on event crowd behavior, especially related to alcohol consumption, and traffic congestion and parking.

Joe Ring, president of the Prospect Park-East River Road Improvement Association, said new housing developments in the area “could add considerable traffic” that is not reflected in the study. “The study is inadequate, at best,” he said.

The university’s Stadium Area Advisory Group in November heard a report on the draft environmental impact statement. Richard “Fitz” Pfutzenreuter, university vice president and chief financial officer, said the university has acquired property north of the stadium site and is discussing the grain elevator site with Conagra so the elevators can be removed. Mike Monahan, transportation consultant, said the proposed stadium site would require shifting a segment of a proposed light-rail line.

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