Stadium proposal hits home

V. Paul

A tale of a Twin Cities ballpark proposal pops two University teams’ home-field futures up in the air.
St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman launched his efforts in May to build a 40,000-seat, roofless ballpark for the Minnesota Twins in downtown St. Paul.
This month, he will be pitching his proposal to St. Paul neighborhood, community and business organizations in a grass-roots effort to garner stadium support, said Mike Zipko, Coleman’s communications director.
The University football and baseball teams face significant home-field changes if the Minnesota Twins move to Coleman’s new stadium.
The Metrodome, which currently houses the Twins, the Minnesota Vikings and Gophers football and baseball, could receive major renovations geared toward a football-only stadium.
These changes would prevent Gophers baseball from using the Metrodome as its alternate to Siebert Field during inclement weather.
“If the Twins were no longer here, then that would have an impact on Minnesota baseball because I’m not sure we’d be able to handle any baseball, actually,” said William Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the organization that manages the Metrodome. “We’re doing an analysis right now that will demonstrate the Metrodome, as part of the overall stadium solution, could be retrofitted to either be baseball-focused or football-focused.”
The analysis assumes that either the Twins or Vikings would move to a new stadium or out of state, leaving the Metrodome to the remaining team, Lester said.
A football-focused renovation means adding new levels of luxury suites and building permanent seats to replace the retractable ones used during baseball games. A baseball-focused renovation means redesigning the current luxury suite setup and reorienting the field to allow more seats to have closer access to it.
Other renovations include widening the stadium’s concourse, providing facilities for additional vendors and adding more women’s restrooms.
Although choosing one focus excludes the other sport from being played at the Metrodome, the University’s lease requires that the stadium facilitate both baseball and football.
“We’re not going to do anything that jeopardizes the leases with … the University of Minnesota Gophers,” Lester said. “The commission’s legislative direction is to find a way to keep both (baseball and football).”
The Gophers baseball team plays 13 of 33 home games in the Metrodome. A football-only stadium would leave Gophers baseball out in the cold.
“There’s something in fundamental conflict with our baseball or football plans with any football-only stadium,” said Mark Dienhart, athletics department director. “The Metrodome is a huge advantage for our baseball program. … There are no plans from the University to build a stadium on campus, so if there were any move to take baseball out of the stadium it would have a profoundly negative impact on our baseball program.”
The availability of Siebert Field as the Gophers baseball teams only playing field is not an option because the team’s regular season begins in February, when snow still coats the baseball diamond.
Renovating or replacing its aging structure is not high on the University’s list of capital priorities.
“Obviously the building priorities for the University relate to women’s athletics right now,” Dienhart said. “(A new stadium) would have to come after that time and we would have to raise all the money privately.”
St. Paul’s proposal for a new stadium makes no provisions for University sports teams.
“Our goal is to create a baseball park to be used 81 nights a year,” Zipko said. “What happens to the Metrodome is up to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.”
When the sports commission’s analysis is released later this month, it can be used by proponents of the St. Paul stadium proposal or any other proposal that may arise, Lester said. It will answer questions about cost, design and a time line for whatever renovations are decided upon.
The University now solely depends on the Metrodome, when in previous years, there had been other stadium options for the University to pursue.
During the 1970s, plans had been laid out to erect a dome on former Memorial Stadium and to build a domed stadium in Bloomington next to the former Metropolitan Stadium, where the Mall of America now stands.
After the Metrodome was built in 1982, the University opted to continue using it in 1984 when the option for terminating the lease came up.
Despite community support for bringing the Gophers back to campus and preserving Memorial Stadium as a historic landmark, increased ticket sales at the Metrodome and the cost of renovating Memorial Stadium prompted University officials to commit to the remaining 27-year lease.
In 1988, Memorial Stadium’s preservation again became an issue because of its pending demolition to make room for the University’s recreation and aquatic centers.
The old was eventually replaced with the new, and with the Gateway project next door to the aquatic center, there is not enough room on campus to put another stadium, Dienhart said.