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Metrodome collapse a blow to Twin Cities’ economy

A crew member surveys the Metrodome roof Monday after it caved in over the weekend. One more Minnesota Vikings game is scheduled for the stadium this season. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Elizabeth Flores)

By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — Are you ready for some football?

In TCF Bank Stadium’s case, the answer is “no” — at least not right away.

After the Metrodome roof caved in under the weight of snow last weekend, there was some talk that the Minnesota Vikings could move their game at the Metrodome to the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium.

But university officials said TCF Bank Stadium, which has been closed for football since the Gophers’ season ended Nov. 28, couldn’t be ready on short notice to host a National Football League game, so the game was moved to Ford Field in Detroit.

The switch took away an event that by at least one estimate would have added $9.1 million to the local economy.

The estimate is based on an analysis of a January 2010 playoff game at the Metrodome and includes only the money spent by visitors on items such as food and accommodations away from the stadium.

The university worked “diligently” Sunday to “assist the Vikings in finding solutions to the unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances resulting from the Metrodome collapse,” according to a statement attributed to the university.

TCF Bank Stadium, however, has been “winterized for the season and is not now immediately operational for football games,” according to the statement. “Enabling the Vikings to play at our stadium presents substantial logistical and operational challenges on such short notice.”

University officials left the door open for TCF Bank Stadium to host the Vikings’ scheduled Monday night game against Chicago if the Metrodome remains on the sidelines. Monday’s contest is the Vikings’ final scheduled home game of the season.

Herb Tousley, director of real estate programs at the University of St. Thomas, said the University of Minnesota would have faced daunting logistical challenges in preparing the stadium and surrounding area for the game.

Not only would the stadium have to be cleared of snow, but also the sidewalks and parking lots, he said. Moreover, the visiting team in this case was not prepared to play in cold weather, so it made sense to look for an indoor stadium.

Lee Esckilsen, a professor in the Center for Sports, Entertainment and Event Management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., said it made sense to move the game to Ford Field because that stadium is game-ready.

That’s not the case at TCF Bank Stadium, which isn’t prepared for 50,000-plus visitors from the standpoint of customer service, operations or the safety of players and fans, he said.

“The NFL is pretty picky about playing surfaces, and I can’t imagine that surface would have been ready to go,” Esckilsen said. “I don’t know what the grounds crew did to winterize the surface, but you have to have a safe surface for those million-dollar football players to play on. God forbid a star running back wrenches a knee or ankle because the surface isn’t good. There are so many things that have to be in place. … I can see why it would have been a daunting task to get that turned around.”

Esckilsen questioned whether it would be worth the effort to open the 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium for the Vikings’ Monday game, even though there would be an entire week to prepare.

“It’s a lot of expense,” he said, “and you are only doing it for one game.”

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, said Tuesday that five inspectors from Birdair Inc., the company that made the roof, along with a crew of construction and iron workers, electricians and plumbers were performing an all-day assessment at the stadium.

“Everyone is going as quickly as they can and as safely as they can,” said Pat Milan, a spokesman for the commission.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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