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Tim Nelson / Minnesota Public Radio, Published June 29 2013

Arrival of new stadium could spell doom for Vikings tailgating

MINNEAPOLIS – It’s a rite as old as Minnesota’s football franchise. Fans gather outside the stadium to eat, drink and tailgate. It’s a do-it-yourself celebration of team spirit.

But some of the Minnesota Vikings most ardent fans are worried the new stadium will mean the end of tailgating as they know and love it.

Three downtown Minneapolis surface parking lots designated for tailgaters, right outside the stadium, are likely to be going away. They’re expected to be replaced with a $400M blockbuster real estate development across the street proposed by the Ryan Companies, and a parking ramp required by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

Marcus Anderson, of Lakeville, is one of the diehard tailgaters who are happy about the new stadium but worried they’ve been sidelined.

“It’s the country Vikings fans that come in. They commute. They commute with their trailers, their RV’s, their homemade vehicles,” Anderson said. “Those things have all been kind of tabled for the big cookie.”

That concern has been stoked recently by an online survey from the Vikings. One of the questions the team asked fans was if they’d be willing to tailgate somewhere else.

Team vice president Lester Bagley said the Vikings are committed to making sure the tradition continues – to a point.

“However if this Ryan project goes forward and develops three current tailgate lots, we’re going to have to roll with that,’ ” Bagley said.

One of the options the Vikings have been weighing is running shuttle buses to remote lots that would get Vikings from their grills to their seats.

Bagley said when the new Central Corridor light rail line opens up on University Avenue, there might be options for ‘railgating’ sponsored by the team.

“To have folks in a programmed, Viking lot with former players, and cheerleaders or street team that would be there to brand it a Vikings experience and then jump on the train and be delivered to the stadium,” Bagley said.

He also said that the team is hoping that the new food service provider for the stadium, likely to be picked July 19, will offer some hospitality options outside the stadium, maybe even some grilling opportunities.

But tailgaters remain uncertain about the alternatives.

Cory Merrifield is founder of Save the Vikes, the fan group that pushed for state aid to the stadium project last year, and a member of Minneapolis’ stadium implementation committee.

Merrifield finds it ironic that the fans who pushed so hard to retain the Vikings in Minnesota may be the ones forced to move.

“The Ryan development is going to wipe out our tailgating before Vikings games, and the day of being able to walk across the street to the game after you tailgate is more or less going to be over after this season,” Merrified said.

City officials say the future of tailgating is up for discussion. Ryan’s plans include a nine-acre park next to the stadium plaza, which could host some game-day programming, although parking an RV with a fridge full of beer won’t be an option there, said Chuck Lutz, deputy director of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development department.

Lutz said the city doesn’t want to drive off tailgaters.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Lutz said the city wants to incorporate them into the stadium project in some way, if not in traditional locations.

“One of the things that we need to look at is different models for tailgating,” he said.

Some surface parking lots remain nearby as an option, and the city has not ruled out tailgating on the street, Lutz said.

The Vikings plan to present the results of their tailgating survey and research – and perhaps some tailgating options – to the city early next month.