At their final tailgating session at U.S. Bank Stadium this year, garishly dressed Vikings fans chowed on doughnuts, homemade chili and freshly grilled burgers even as they fretted about the future of the tradition.
On their minds Sunday wasn’t only the playoff hopes for the purple-and-gold, but the encroachment of development around the stadium. New apartment buildings and parking ramps on Washington Avenue are expected to eliminate surface parking lots that double as gameday party pads.
Erik Christensen of Sioux Falls, S.D., was part of a group that took over several spaces on the “Skol Lot” with propane-heated tents and a grill customized to travel on his truck. “We’ve heard this lot is going to get closed next year,” Christensen said. “We’re worried … like, where do we go?”
City leaders have long sought to replace surface parking with amenities such as housing, retail and restaurants. Washington Avenue has transformed in the past few years from empty storefronts on a commuter corridor to a destination neighborhood with hotels, high-end condos, restaurants and a Trader Joe’s grocery store.
Despite the tailgaters’ professed commitment, Vikings vice president Jeff Anderson said the team lots weren’t sold out at the beginning of the season — although they were by the end.
“Obviously, it’s an evolving landscape for tailgating over the last few years,” he said. “We know it’s an important tradition and we want to continue to offer it in some form.”
For now, the Vikings control about 360 tailgating spots on four lots. About a third of those spots will be eliminated next spring when team owners and real estate developers Mark, Zygi and Leonard Wilf plan to break ground on an apartment tower in the Skol Lot used by Christensen’s group at Washington Avenue and Park Avenue S.
With their love of open pavement, tailgaters are at odds with urban planners. Development around U.S. Bank Stadium was the major selling point for the Vikings when they asked lawmakers and City Hall for the public to pick up almost half the cost of the $1.1 billion stadium. The stadium’s predecessor, the Metrodome, was derided for failing to spark neighborhood development.
Devotees say tailgating is an equalizer, a party with friends and foes regardless of whether they sit in the nosebleed seats or the suites. The party extends the game, often starting with breakfast and waiting out the traffic afterward.
Even with the loss of the Skol Lot, tailgaters will still have space to party next season.
The Wilfs have no plans to develop the conjoined Purple and Gold lots that are just across the street on the northern side of the stadium. The team also leases a lot from Periscope a few blocks north.
Development doesn’t appear imminent on an independent lot with a couple hundred spaces on the corner of Portland Avenue S. and Washington. Lot owners rent spaces on game days but are under no obligation to continue to do so.
That lot was rocking with Bears and Vikings fans on Sunday.
The stars for a stretch were two Bears fans who drove from Chicago. Joe Bogdanich and Andrew Lash were the center of attention for their unabashed karaoke of the Kiss classic, “I Was Made For Loving You.” Everyone within sight of the spectacle smiled, laughed or joined in the song and dance.
“It’s a spot where the true fans get together with alcoholic beverages,” Bogdanich said of the parking lot parties.
Nearby, a golden retriever named Georgi, wearing a purple Brett Favre No. 4 jersey, was getting lots of affection and photo opportunities with mostly female fans. The skyward tilt of her snout indicated her attention was on the grilled meats from every direction.
Vikings tailgating is a multigenerational tradition dating to the team’s years at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, which was an island amid a sea of surface parking lots. At the “Met,” tailgating parties stretched long after games ended and were often joined by departing players.
Back at the soon-to-be-developed Skol Lot, Christensen’s crew was doing the tradition proud. Designated chef Rich Poole of Woodbury laid out a gourmet taco bar with options of seasoned ground beef, shredded chicken and gooey queso alongside a chafing dish filled with hot dogs simmering in his singular Carolina Reaper Pepper chili.
Poole and his friends are willing to adapt, but they’re not interested in $15 beers and the corporate offerings outside the stadium. “Hanging out on the plaza, that’s not tailgating,” Poole said.
His pal Chad Hasskamp, whose red hair remains in a mullet that started as an homage to retired Viking Jared Allen, said eliminating tailgating is not a good “fan experience.” But he’s willing to move the party along, saying, “If I’ve got to go to the top of a parking ramp to tailgate, I’ll do it.”
Across the lot, Wendy and Patrick McNeil of Bayport were coordinators of another big-tent gathering of friends who had met tailgating over the years. “It becomes a family, it really does,” Patrick McNeil said.
Then Wendy whipped out a cooler of her signature offering: prepared Jell-O and pudding shots in little plastic containers. “We were lucky to get a spot,” Patrick McNeil said of the lot. “We’re hoping they come up with a solution.”
There were rumors and fears, too, in the lot the Vikings don’t own on Portland Avenue where Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Let’s Groove” blasted. “We’ve heard we get one more year,” said Panda Darsow, whose fan attire included horns, glittery face pant, fake fur and a tank top on a 30-degree day.
Elaborate outfits, loud music and shots of alcohol appeared to be the main attractions at that party that Darsow described as a loosely organized group always open to fans from opposing teams.
“It’s nice to have a safe space,” she said, noting their commonality. “Everybody understands football.”