The Vikings’ new billion-dollar stadium is little more than a year from opening, and feels much further away. Bulldozers work upon the patch of broken earth that will eventually become a football field. Its upper deck levels are nothing but giant, bare, staircase-like concrete slabs and along every concourse sit piles of cinder blocks and scuffed-up scaffolding. Above the mess stretches a lattice of giant beams—the inchoate beginnings of a translucent roof. Minneapolis has committed $150 million to the stadium, and the state is paying $348 million: there’s no higher-profile construction site in all of Minnesota.
And getting in is shockingly easy.
On a warm evening last month I parked my car on Chicago Avenue, not far from the stadium, and with camera gear in tow headed over to look at the site’s outermost barrier—a mix of chain-link fence and plastic barricades. A simple push against the fence opened a human-sized gap a few feet off the ground and in seconds I slipped from sanctioned public space onto the rocky dirt of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.
I was exposed in the open space between the site’s security fence and the stadium’s rising walls. Sirens echoed from the other side of skyscrapers, ambient city noise, and I dashed between cranes, pickup trucks, and bobcats into the cover of the stadium itself. Inside, the Vikings’ home-to-be is a gray shell. The angles of its half-built roof seem to defy mathematical logic, and traversing its unfinished concourses and upper levels is like walking through some kind of M.C. Escher/Lewis Carroll fever dream. In its halfway-done state, illuminated by spotlights and the glow of the surrounding city, the building is otherworldly.
In 30 minutes of walking in long roundabouts, scouring each level and taking long-exposure photos, I began to discover familiar human tokens. An unfinished Burger King meal sat on a massive drum and muddy footprints covered every floor. Many areas appear to spend the nighttime hours half-awake, lit by bright halogen lights and soundtracked by noisy generators. There are porta-potties, refrigerators, and ad-hoc offices in there, because this is construction that can’t afford to fall behind schedule; it is a self-contained arcology where workers spend the majority of their days.
Walking across what will one day be the 50-yard-line brought no sense of centering. Cranes loom over much of ground level.
Deciding it must look better from above, I climbed over the temporary wall that surrounded the entrance of one crane (all serious cranes are separated from the rest of construction sites by a locked wooden or metal wall, so as to keep out untrained laborers—and maybe curious explorers) and began climbing. It was a long way up.
Roughly 20 stories above the field, at eye-level with the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis, I felt exhilarated and exposed. Any watchful security guard or nearby condo resident with some binoculars could have easily spotted me and called in police. But after climbing up high through a tiny ladder in one crane’s central tower, I finally reached a landing of sorts, and, shielded, leaned back against the dirty painted steel to take it all in for just a moment.
Atop the crane, the Vikings stadium looks even less complete—its giant concrete stands and walkways are diminished by the vertical distance. From up there, the Minneapolis streets glow as an orange grid while the site itself becomes a set of uneven shadows, metal beams crossing above, behind, and below each other. Someday soon it will all be purple and gold and translucent, and it will shine. But for now, the crown jewel of Minneapolis is still dirty, gray, skeletal, and unsettling. I think I prefer it this way.
Scott Heins is a writer, photojournalist, and urban explorer born in Minnesota and living in New York City. He believes cities should be experienced more freely, not just on the terms of those in power.