Dome Disaster: Snow Wrecks Vikings’ Home

The Minnesota Vikings’ long push for a new stadium has been stuck in neutral for more than a decade, but scary images of the Metrodome’s wrecked roof might accelerate the process.

While stadium workers started the cleanup and repair Sunday after a storm that brought 17 inches of snow and wind gusts up to 30 mph the day before, the Vikings left for Detroit, where their game against the New York Giants was moved by the NFL for Monday.

Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission chairman Roy Terwilliger said he’s optimistic the roof can be repaired in time for the Vikings to host the Chicago Bears in their next scheduled home game on Dec. 20, giving workers eight days to replace three damaged panels and re-raise the Teflon roof.

Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley declined to comment on how the collapse could affect the team’s push for a new facility. Their lease at the Metrodome runs through the 2011 season, and they’ve said they won’t renew it.

“We’ve worked particularly close with the Vikings over the last two or three years on plans and designs and steps and obviously it can’t help but call attention to the fact that the facility is 28 years old,” Terwilliger said. “It’s one of the oldest facilities in the NFL. There’s a problem when we run this risk of not being able to play a game, because it’s a huge economic hit to the team. But the policymakers will handles these issues.”

Giants chief executive and co-owner John Mara said he believes this “bolsters their argument why they need a new stadium. For this to happen nowadays is pretty incredible,” he said.

State leaders have said there’s little they can do for the team until they solve a $6 billion plus deficit. The Vikings are working on a new proposal to present to the Legislature after the session begins in January. They’ve been contacted by two Los Angeles-based groups interested in bringing an NFL team to the nation’s second-largest market, but so far they’ve said they remain “committed to finding a solution in Minnesota.”

The Vikings previously pledged roughly one-third of the cost for a new stadium, estimated at $700 million or far more depending on the model and the site, but they’ve had difficulty getting traction on public funding to pay for the rest.

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton stopped by the Metrodome Sunday morning to “make a quick assessment for future decisions,” his spokeswoman Katie Tinucci said, without elaborating. She said Dayton wanted to thank the workers for their cleanup efforts, and he described the scene inside as “eerie.”

Photo: AP Photo
The collapsed roof of the Metrodome is shown in this aerial view in Minneapolis.

Tinucci said it was too early for Dayton to comment on how the collapse could affect the team’s desire for a new stadium, but Dayton supported the concept during his campaign. He has said he’d support a stadium proposal if the public benefits outweigh the public’s cost, without being specific.

There’s a lot of work to be done at the dome before the next scheduled game on Dec. 20, considering the scene inside the cold, darkened stadium following the 5 a.m. collapse.

Snow plopped onto the artificial turf through a gaping hole above the 30-yard-line, as a piece of the Teflon-coated fiberglass roof roughly 10 yards long flapped in the wind. It glowed eerily in the sunlight dangling not far above the field. Speakers that hang from the roof were still safely above the seats and the field.

The seats sit low enough that it appears people would have been out of harm’s way had the roof fallen during a game

“I don’t see any real impact on the seating,” MSFC director of facilities and engineering Steve Maki said.

Maki said he was coordinating with the original manufacturer and installer of the material, Birdair Inc. of Amherst, N.Y., on a plan to fix the roof. It has now fallen four times, all due to heavy snow, since the stadium opened nearly 30 years ago. But the last time was 27 years ago – when a collapse in April 1983 forced postponement of a Twins baseball game. Terwilliger said this was the worst of the collapses.

“This just came very fast. It was heavily loaded, and the wind was just unbelievable,” said Maki, who halted the snowmelt process and called his crew down from the roof Saturday night out of concern for their safety. “It almost knocked me on my rear end.”

The heat inside was turned up, and hot air was pumped between the roof’s layers, but that wasn’t enough to keep it from giving out.

“There were no injuries, which we’re thankful for,” said Bill Lester, the MSFC’s executive director.

The game between the Vikings and Giants had already been postponed by 31 hours, after Saturday’s blizzard kept the Giants from getting to Minneapolis on time. They stayed the night in Kansas City instead.

The city got 17.1 inches of snow during the storm that started Friday night and ended around 10 p.m. Saturday, said James McQuirter, a National Weather Service meteorologist. He said the storm was one of the five largest to hit the Twin Cities. Some surrounding communities got more than 21 inches of snow, McQuirter said.

The Metrodome roof is 10 acres of Teflon-coated fiberglass that is supported by 20 90-horsepower fans. It weighs roughly 580,000 pounds. Maki said they keep some replacement fabric in stock with Birdair, and that the MSFC has received offers of extra material from officials in Syracuse, N.Y., and Detroit.

Photo: AP Photo
Snow falls into the field from a hole in the collapsed roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Maki said he didn’t anticipate any problem with the cleanup of the turf or the rest of the stadium. It’ll just be a matter of getting that white, puffy roof up again to cover the field and frame the east side of the city’s skyline.

“I remain optimistic, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Maki said.