The plan to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings cleared one of its final hurdles on Friday as the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority picked Mortenson Construction as the project's general contractor.
There were new glimpses of details of the project today as well. The Metrodome could be coming down as soon as next January and a Final Four NCAA basketball tournament could be on the way.
"It's going to be the largest construction project that this state has undertaken," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the authority. "This is a huge piece of history that I think is being made here today, as all of us begin, in earnest, the actual construction process."
Vikings team vice president Lester Bagley said the team will likely play two full seasons at the University of Minnesota football stadium while the new stadium is built.
MORE VIKINGS STADIUM COVERAGE
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• New stadium may be ready for 2017 Final Four
• Follow the latest developments on Stadium Watch
Mortsenson is already known for most of the Twin Cities sports landmarks, including the Target Center, the Xcel Energy Center, TCF Bank Stadium and Target Field.
The company also built the landmark Minneapolis Central Library, the Minneapolis Convention Center, and the in-progress Orchestra Hall renovation, on the south end of downtown.
Mortenson was contending with Arizona-based Hunt Construction, which built Lucas Oil Field, where the Indianapolis Colts play; and the University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Arizona Cardinals play. They also built landmarks like Citi Field, and Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
Hunt sweetened its bid by teaming up with Minneapolis-based Kraus-Anderson, which built the U of M's Amplatz Children's Hospital and the 35-story Dain Rauscher/Nieman Marcus Plaza in Minneapolis, as well as Lawson Commons in downtown St. Paul.
The pick comes as no real surprise: Mortenson actually got the job once before, back in 2008, when the then-Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission was planning its "Metrodome Next" initiative. Mortenson has also been in on the ground floor in the latest project, lobbying for state aid for the project at the Legislature, offering construction schedule and cost estimates and otherwise doing the legwork for the run-up to the stadium bill which was signed in May 2012.
Kelm-Helgen said that Mortenson provided a very competive fee, worth at least $12.5 million. That could grow to $15 million with incentives. But she also said that Mortenson had a home-field advantage.
"They know all the players in the city, both subcontractors, as well as neighborhood groups, elected officials. They've got networks into the community, so they really can literally start next Monday," Kelm-Helgen said. "It's not like they even have to buy an airline ticket to get here. And that makes a big difference in terms of just the scheduling, and their ability to jump in and not have a couple-month learning curve."
The construction management services agreement is the biggest contract in the stadium project. The stadium itself is expected to cost about $822 million of the total $975 million cost of the planning, land acquisition, building and other elements of getting a new stadium open.
Familiar as the faces might be, though, there were some surprises.
Officials said that work with the project architect indicated that the Metrodome will have to be demolished a year from now to accommodate construction of the new stadium. The Vikings had been planning to move to the University of Minnesota Gophers' home field in 2015.
The Vikings had initially resisted that plan, in part because TCF Bank stadium has about 13,000 fewer seats than the Metrodome. That would cut the team's ticket sales substantially, and the team wanted the relocation to last no more than one season.
The construction company also said it had committed to having the stadium ready for football by July 1, 2016. There had been discussion of playing at least part of the Vikings season that year outside of downtown Minneapolis, in case the stadium wasn't finished.
But the contract now includes a $5 million penalty for every NFL game lost if the stadium isn't ready.
Mortenson senior vice president John Wood said that shouldn't be a problem.
"It's a pretty tight schedule -- 33 months, from Oct. 1 to July 1 of 2016. But we built the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. And we built that project in 31 months, and it's actually a bigger stadium than the new People's Stadium will be," Wood said.
Initial designs for the stadium are expected to be unveiled in a few weeks by the MSFA and HKS architects. Groundbreaking is scheduled for October, and the Vikings should kick off their first game there in the second half of 2016, if all goes as planned.
Even before work starts, officials said today they're already out selling the place. Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority members and staff will be heading to Atlanta the first week in April to open talks to bring the NCAA men's basketball Final Four tournament back to Minneapolis. The Metrodome hosted the tournament in 1992 and 2001.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to indicate that the Metrodome was the site of the NCAA Final Four tournament twice. An earlier version was incorrect.