Into second year, Plaza is a success

The plaza will be an enduring feature outside the stadium.

Jeff Martin of Thief River Falls, Wisc., reads the sky markers at the Tribal Nations Plaza at TCF Bank Stadium in July. The Shokapee Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated $10 million for the display, which commemorates tribes across the state.

Ian Larson

Jeff Martin of Thief River Falls, Wisc., reads the sky markers at the Tribal Nations Plaza at TCF Bank Stadium in July. The Shokapee Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated $10 million for the display, which commemorates tribes across the state.

Luke Feuerherm

On a hot July day the sun beat down on the 50,000-plus empty seats in the out-of-season TCF Bank Stadium.

Just outside the gates stood Bill and Esther Chosa, who were impressed not by their first glimpse of the new stadium but rather by the 11 sky markers that flank the west end of the stadium in a wide arc at the Tribal Nations Plaza.

The Chosas were on campus visiting their granddaughter, who had recently received a bone marrow transplant. The couple, who are Ojibwa, were told during their visit that they had to see the plaza before heading back home to Wisconsin.

“These are pretty impressive,” Bill Chosa said of the metal and glass signposts. “We’re learning things we didn’t know.”

Passersby like the Chosas are a welcomed sign for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, who donated $10 million — the single largest donation in Gopher sports history — to fund the plaza.

Stanley Crooks, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community chairman, said he thought it was a great opportunity, “because our sky markers are outside a stadium, and people flowing [past] on game day is one thing, but you’ve also got people flowing through the area daily.”

While the plaza is entering its second year outside the stadium, it may be too early to judge just how successful the permanent fixture will ultimately be, Crooks said.

But, so far, signs are good.

One of the most telling signs of the plaza’s early success has been the absence of graffiti, which was a concern when the sky markers were being designed.

In fact, the original idea of installing interactive kiosks in the plaza was scrapped over a fear of vandalism.

Along with the plaza, the donation also helped the University of Minnesota out of a fundraising slump at the time and created a scholarship fund targeting Native American students, Crooks said.

Along with the $10 million gift, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated $2.5 million to create the SMSC Endowed Scholarship. The University matched the donation.

Twenty-nine students have received scholarships from the fund since 2008.

Crooks hopes that like the sky markers, the scholarships will serve as a legacy of the new stadium. The stadium’s name, however, he was not as keen on.

“I was dismayed that Memorial Stadium was going to be TCF [Bank] Stadium,” Crooks said. “I suggested that maybe people in TCF ought to, after a year or so, recognize that this should be a public stadium, and the name, the University’s traditional name of the stadium, should be reflected there.”

Crooks was also on the side that said alcohol should not be sold at the stadium and even sent a letter to the Board of Regents and President Bob Bruininks that said the tribe would be disappointed with the sale of alcohol.

The tribe still stands behind the investment and hopes the plaza will be an enduring feature outside the stadium.

As a testament to this intention, each marker was designed to allow the information to be altered so that even as tribes change, the plaza can remain.