The Minnesota Vikings say they're trying to save tailgating in the blocks around their new stadium, despite real estate plans for some of the prime locations.
Given what fans are saying, it looks like they've got their work cut out for them.
Results of a survey just released by the Vikings say they have about 8,400 tailgaters a week now and fans aren't interested in moving away from the Metrodome, even if the land gets sold off for a blockbuster $400 million dollar real estate development.
The Vikings say they're seeking space for as many as 10,000 people and they'd like to keep them close together. The team says that reflects the preferences they found in their June survey of 22,000 ticket holders.
The survey also held another key finding: More than half the fans surveyed told the Vikings they wouldn't even consider tailgating outside the stadium area, even if someone offered a shuttle to get them back and forth. That limits some of the initial tailgating ideas floated this summer, like bringing in pre-game partiers from as far away as Target Field or even St. Paul by bus or train.
Other results from the Vikings ticket holders survey:
64 percent of fans surveyed felt it was "very important" to have tailgating available at the new stadium
72 percent tailgate once a season, and 36 percent tailgate at five home games or more
56 percent use the Vikings sanctioned "Purple" lots, adjacent to the Metrodome
54 percent would not consider tailgating or parking in a lot farther away from the stadium
31 percent said they'd be willing to use shared tailgating space; 40 said they'd consider it
In response to these numbers, the team is asking the city to consider nearly doubling the size of the permitted tailgate zone around the stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Designated by the city decades ago and anchored around the Metrodome, it's where the city allows open-air parties in licensed parking lots on game days.
Crunch time comes after this football season: The Star Tribune is set to sell off three tailgating lots on December 27. The buyer, Ryan Companies, plans to build a $400 million office, parking, retail and residential complex in the area.
"Our fans like to be in the vicinity of the stadium, they want to see the stadium, they want to be in a surface lot with their colleagues and cohorts and fellow Vikings fans," said team vice president Lester Bagley. "But that's challenging to deliver within an urban environment."
In fact, according to Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development deputy director Chuck Lutz, the new stadium may very well be the most urban, most built-in stadium in the NFL when its finished.
That doesn't leave much room for do-it-yourself cookouts on charcoal grills and amateur field goal kicking contests.
The team has offered a plan that would nearly stretch the size of the official tailgate zone to the south and east. The Vikings would like to move the boundary as far south as 10th street, south of the Hennepin County Medical Center, and east across Interstate 35W.
Lutz says the city is weighing the team's proposal. "We did not agree to any expansion of the district and that's something we need to talk about over time."
But expansion opportunities are limited.
Residents of the Elliot Park neighborhood, just south of the stadium, say they'd rather the tailgaters keep their distance.
David Fields, the neighborhood's development coordinator, lives in Elliot Park and also serves on the city's stadium implementation committee: "Even thought its nice to see fans down here several times a year, we don't want to keep pushing the perception that Elliot Park is merely a place you can go to a parking lot, park your car cheap, drink a couple of beers and go to the stadium."
Fields and other residents are hoping that the stadium and the Ryan project will spark development that they've wanted for a long time -- new homes and offices and other amenities on the very surface parking lots that sports fans have used.
The city and the Vikings say they've still got some other options to explore -- in how fans tailgate, rather than where.
The city thinks streets closed to game day traffic, like 4th Street and parts of Park and Portland Avenues west of the Metrodome, might be an alternative to private parking lots. A planned 9-acre park could host some kind of game day hospitality functions.
The Vikings think tailgaters might even even move closer to the stadium, onto the open space outside the front door. "You know, maybe there's a way on the plaza. We've talked to the concessionaire, Aramark, that just got hired, about, is there a village concept, where people can come? Can we provide tailgating opportunities without cars?"
The team and the city are scheduled to meet again next week to talk over the options some more.