By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings bird-loving fans are flustered the NFL franchise won’t ante up a million bucks for bird-safe glass at the stadium now under construction.
“Blatant refusal to replace the glass because birds will die crashing into the windows has now convinced me this project is an embarrassment and horror to our Flyway and to our State. Conceit and greed is now painfully obvious and everyone involved should be ashamed,” wrote Mary Madeco-Smith on City Pages website.
Critics flocked to post online comments on news sites following reports that $46 million in newly announced stadium upgrades will not include $1.1 million for bird-friendly glass. The stadium will be located within blocks of the Mississippi River, an international flyway for migratory birds.
“Pony up for the anti-bird windows, it’s just a drop in the bucket for them. And yes, people do care about birds, no matter their opinion on building a stadium,” wrote Lynn Haver, a Star Tribune reader.
“Then there should be plenty enough money to illuminate the bird death trap glass walls that will kill migrating birds along the Mississippi River. The ‘Peoples Stadium’ should not be a bird killer,” another reader logged on as “donotpush” said.
At the same time, Vikings management took a victory lap for ponying up additional funds and pushing the official cost of the stadium to more than $1 billion.
“The Vikings have made a significant contribution to the stadium budget which allows us to maintain the original design to ensure the building is the most iconic, world-class stadium in the country and perhaps the world,” Michele Kelm-Helgen, executive director of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, said in a statement. “We appreciate the team stepping up to make this significant contribution was instrumental in helping to solve our budget gap.”
The controversy centers on the equivalent of four football fields of glass planned for the stadium’s exterior that will reflect the sky and create a likely “death trap” for thousands of birds. Surveys show 125 species of migratory birds have crashed into the windows of Twin Cities office buildings and high rises. Environmental groups say thousands more, including federally protected fowl, will die due to what amounts to a killer stadium financed in part by $500 million in local and state taxpayer funding.
The latest scrum kicked off with a “tweet” — cyber, not winged — from Jeff Anderson of the Vikings promotional squad, responding to a Twitter question on whether the team now planned to install “bird-safe” glass.
“No, but bird-safe glass was not a cost issue. Significantly affects the design and view through the glass,” Anderson tweeted as the news emerged from the monthly Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority board meeting.
The Viking’s acknowledgment that aesthetics trump conservation did not play well with Minnesota Audubon, a group that held months-long discussions with team and state officials over the issue. The team’s new position contradicted Kelm-Helgen’s July assertion to that officials did “not have the budget to include the $1.1 million needed for bird safe glass.”
That riled Matthew Anderson, Audubon Minnesota’s executive director, who asked: “$46 million dollars but nothing for the birds?”
:This announcement is a slap in the face,” Anderson said in a statement. “A month ago, the Vikings and the MSFA said they didn’t have a million extra dollars in a billion-dollar budget. Today, they said that have an extra $46 million. Are you kidding me?”
Audubon points to the new Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, which features fritted, more bird-friendly glass made by the same Minnesota manufacturer the Vikings signed up.
To date, Audubon has obtained more signatures on two online petitions supporting the switch to fritted glass than there will be seats in the new stadium — 76,000 signatures to be delivered to Gov. Mark Dayton’s office.
“Once the glass wall is up, we don’t know what the numbers (of dead birds) are going to be, but we do know it’s going to be one big open air field experiment for the next 30 to 40 years,” Anderson said. “We’re doing everything we can for that not to be the case, but at this point, we have to be realistic and take a look at how we’re going to monitor this.”
State regulations call for new construction projects to meet bird-safe guidelines, but MSAF officials maintain the stadium plans were finalized before the rules took effect. Audubon staff say they have discussed design concerns with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis, part of a plan to monitor the stadium’s impact and will follow-up with federal officials when the games begin in the fall of 2016.