Eyes on Linden Ave. as possible stadium site

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A panoramic image shows the intersection of Linden Avenue and 16th Street near downtown Minneapolis. Supporters say a stadium in the area would make a great portal to the city.

By Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio

St. Paul, Minn. – A long-dormant corner of downtown Minneapolis is getting a closer look as an possible new home for the Vikings.

As locations go, the intersection of Linden Avenue and 16th Street near downtown Minneapolis isn’t much. It’s bracketed on three sides by chain link fencing — even barbed wire on two corners.

But supporters call the site downtown Minneapolis’ “back door” and say a stadium there would make a great portal to the city. The growing prospects for a football stadium prompt hope — and concern — for the area.

For more than a century, the area has been a maintenance and equipment storage yard, now owned by Xcel Energy.

But if downtown boosters have their way, this spot could one day host a new stadium and possibly a Super Bowl.

The scrum to host the Vikings has come down to this site and two others. One is the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills. Minneapolis wants to keep the team at the Metrodome site.

But Linden Avenue boosters say their site is the best of the lot.

Credit for the idea goes to Mic Johnson, design principal at the Minneapolis office of AECOM (formerly the Ellerbe Becket architectural firm), and his colleagues.

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Linden Avenue runs through one of the proposed sites for a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Minneapolis is a beautiful downtown seen from the approaches on Interstate 35W or I-94, Johnson said.

“It has these great sort of tall buildings to it. It’s very reflective, and you want those gateways to be marked in special ways,” Johnson said. “There’s no marker there, there’s no gateway into the city, in a sense, you come in through the back door of a freeway.”

It isn’t just aesthetics. Once amid landmarks like Kemps Ice Cream, Munsingwear and Boyer Ford, the Linden Avenue site has been cut off from the rest of the city by freeways.

“When we looked at that site…that’s also an opportunity to bridge some of that,” Johnson said. “You put a stadium at that intersection, and then you find a way to bridge back over 394 and connect it to the city.”

But maybe most importantly, there’s money.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has offered to provide some local funding by diverting some of the city’s existing hospitality taxes to a new stadium.

Opposition to new taxes has stymied the other major bid in Ramsey County for the stadium. And the Vikings have said it would be cost-prohibitive to play somewhere else while the Metrodome is torn down and rebuilt.

Downtown Council President Sam Grabarski said a Linden Avenue stadium would tie together the area around Target Field to the north, and the convention center to the east.

“We would have an event center that’s adjacent to the downtown community, where all these bars and restaurants and hotels currently exist,” Grabarski said. “That’s an economic spark plug that is hard to deny would make an important difference to downtown Minneapolis.”

Which isn’t to say Linden Avenue is a done deal.

The team still prefers Arden Hills, said Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley.

“We know a lot about the Arden Hills site. It’s the ideal site,” Bagley said. “We know a lot about the Metrodome site. We don’t know much about Linden Avenue. We’re learning.”

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Lee’s liquor lounge is on the northeast corner of the Linden Avenue area planners are considering for a new Vikings stadium. MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Factors include cost and a construction timeline. And while it may be little known, the area is already well-used. Besides Xcel, it’s also home to Youth Link, Hennepin County’s hub for homeless youth services. The landmark Lee’s Liquor Lounge is on the northeast corner of the area, and the city’s Currie Avenue public works garage covers part of the site.

On one block, Wanner Engineering employs more than 100 people, making high tech pumps and valves. Founder Bill Wanner said he is deeply concerned the Vikings are about to run him out.

“Our machines are very expensive, and it would be devastating for us to move,” Wanner said. “Because I’m sure that nobody would compensate us for the time and effort of moving the machinery, not to mention the displacement of employees.”

It will soon be known if Linden Avenue will be seriously considered. Gov. Mark Dayton has told Minneapolis and Ramsey County officials to put their best offer on the table by the end of next week.