A deflated dome

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December 20, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// The Metrodome’s collapsed roof forces Vikings to scramble for a new home //

The freak weather lead to a freak accident which lead to a freak coincidence. For the Minnesota Vikings, the 2010 season just keeps getting stranger.

Temporarily orphaned by a damaged Metrodome, whose roof collapsed Dec. 12 after the fifth largest snowfall in Minneapolis history, the team will play its final home game at TCF Bank Stadium, the University of Minnesota’s outdoor football venue, which has been winterized and hibernating since November. The Dec. 20 game, a Monday Night Football match-up against the Chicago Bears, will be played 29 years to the day since the last time the Vikings played an outdoor game, at Met Stadium in 1981 (they lost 10–6 to Kansas City).

The decision to move the game came on Dec. 14, after an initial damage assessment determined that the Dome’s torn Teflon roof could not be repaired in time. Crews from N.Y.-based Birdair Inc, the roof’s manufacturer and installer, and Geiger and Associates, the roof’s system designer, had spent a frantic day in extreme weather surveying the site before delivering the news to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC), which operates the Metrodome.

A statement released by the MSFC announced that “the extent of the damage to the panels is worse than hoped. In addition, the amount of ice and snow in the remaining panels is so deep that it poses a safety hazard to the workers.”

But the sub-zero temperatures also threatened repair crews. The MSFC can’t just send technicians up on a roof in the midst of brutal wind-chills, said chairman Roy Terwilliger.

“First and foremost, we stress to them, this is about a matter of safety,” he said. “We don’t want to put anybody in harm’s way.”

The MSFC says it has two options for repairing the damage to the Metrodome roof.  Mending the torn panels would be a quick but short-term solution that would still require the panels to be replaced at a later date. Replacing the torn panels with new material would be a long-term solution, but it would also be the most time consuming.

Management at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome has offered to ship a 10-year-old extra roof panel to the Metrodome. Managing director Pete Sala says he also offered his expertise in inflating and deflating a dome, something he has done several times during his years operating the Syracuse stadium. The Carrier Dome roof sustained a weather-related tear in the 1990s.

Officials in Michigan have made similar offers.

Meanwhile, over at TCF Bank Stadium, crews have been working frantically to clear the venue of the 5-foot snowdrifts that have accumulated inside. The university has hired 400 additional workers, who will also scramble to ready concession areas and restrooms.

Scott Ellison, university associate athletic director in charge of facilities and event management, told reporters that removing snow from the stadium would take five to six days.

“It’s not as easy as just throwing a switch or a valve and walking away,” he said. “You have to open up the water line and make sure there’s no leaks and make sure everything is running properly.”

The Vikings and the NFL will cover the university’s expenses for clearing the snowy stadium and hosting the game, which could amount to $700,000 or more.

Speaking of money, the New York Times estimated that the Vikings’ Dec. 13 game against the New York Giants, which had to be moved to Detroit, may have cost the franchise $4.84 million in gate receipts. (The estimate was based on an average ticket price of $75.69, as determined by Team Marketing Report.) The Vikings ranked third-to-last in NFL team revenue for 2009, according to Forbes Magazine.

A further complication is TCF Bank Stadium’s limited seating. The venue’s capacity is 50,000. But the Vikings have already sold more than 63,000 tickets to the game. Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said there were discussions about adding temporary seats to the stadium — and possibly even arranging to sell beer, which is normally prohibited at the college facility.

The Metrodome’s roof collapse was the fourth such failure in its 28-year history. The last such incident occurred in April 1983, when a roof collapse forced the postponement of a Twins baseball game.

The torn Teflon has brought new attention to the decade-long debate over whether the Vikings should have a new stadium built.

Terwilliger said the collapse “can’t help but call attention” to the Metrodome’s age.  

Bagley has declined to comment on how the incident might affect the team’s push for a new stadium. The Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome expires at the end of the 2011 season. The team has said that they do not plan on renewing.