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Kevin Schnepf, Published September 15 2009

Schnepf: TCF Bank Stadium blends old with new

Hard to imagine, but it was only three years and four months ago that the Minnesota Legislature approved a new on-campus football stadium at the University of Minnesota.

Hard to imagine, but the new $288 million TCF Bank Stadium that was christened last Saturday is the first Big Ten Conference stadium constructed since 1960.

Hard to imagine, but the new state-of-the art facility somehow became a reality during difficult economic times.

“In all likelihood, this could become what Camden Yards was to Major League Baseball,” said North Dakota native Gene Allen, who was part of TCF’s three-person team that negotiated the $35 million naming rights for the stadium. “Once the economy turns around, I really foresee a big boom in new collegiate football stadiums.”

Much like Baltimore’s Camden Yards, TCF Bank Stadium blends the old with the new to perfection. The brick exterior resembles, in many ways, Memorial Stadium – a facility where the Gophers last played outdoors in 1981. The horseshoe-shaped seating – with an open view of the Minneapolis skyline – also resembles Memorial Stadium.

But Memorial Stadium didn’t have a mammoth scoreboard with a video board the size of the basketball court that sits in Williams Arena across the street. Memorial Stadium didn’t have 37 suites that each sell for $40,500 per season. Memorial Stadium didn’t have a 60-by-20 yard-sized locker room equipped with 125 custom-built cherry-wood lockers.

“It’s perfect in every way,” Allen said. “No detail has been overlooked.”

About the only thing missing – much to the chagrine of the high rollers sitting in the suites or the premium seating – was alcohol. Make no mistake, there was plenty of alcohol spotted in the tailgating lots surrounding the stadium.

But university officials figure the ban on alcohol sales in the stadium will cost them $1 million in revenue. This could be an issue that comes up for debate in the Legislature again.

In the meantime, Gopher officials are basking in the sunlight – which is now possible with an outdoor stadium.

Gopher officials should also be thankful that all the funding (48 percent coming from the state) was secured before companies started laying people off. Had this project started one year later, TCF Bank Stadium could very well still be a parking lot.

It’s hard to imagine that now.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com