Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
A chilly morning stroll around U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis clarifies two things: First, a permanent security fence would be an improvement; second, odds are that most people won't notice it. The scale of the building is so immense that tasteful fencing would attract no more attention than, say, a tattoo on a whale — incongruous, maybe, but hardly disfiguring.
By contrast, the ramshackle succession of chain-link barriers now in place, leaning this way and that, looks trashy. It would be more suitable to prevent trespassers at a construction site — or, better still, a demolition site — than to serve as part of a major sports stadium's security infrastructure.
The inadequacy of the existing fence goes beyond aesthetics. Speaking to an editorial writer this week, Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley noted that the current fence "is not a secure perimeter." As such, he said, it doesn't fit with the team's priority of keeping its fans safe.
"Safety and security is paramount," he said.
The Vikings organization has long advocated for a permanent fence like the one now sought by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which approved initial steps last week. The Department of Homeland Security has urged such a fence, an important consideration because the stadium's federal protection from certain kinds of liability depends on Homeland's approval.
For its part, the facilities authority said its goals for the "potential perimeter project" include "enhanced public safety, preservation of public access, and inclusion of public art." Those objectives strike us as appropriate and necessary. Ideally, the new fence should appear to visitors as a sign of safety and welcome, signaling that they will be relatively secure inside its gates.
Bagley explained that "the security perimeter will bring along with it the ability to screen folks with growing technology, facial recognition and some of the other advancements … that will be studied as part of this project."
Football fans may not be enthusiastic about the prospect of being examined with facial recognition software or even about constructing a permanent fence. But there is little doubt that current events justify such improvements.
In its seven seasons in downtown Minneapolis, the stadium has seen a few security lapses — most notably the demonstration in 2017, when foes of the Dakota Access pipeline were able to climb into the rafters and suspend a banner over the end zone during a Vikings-Bears game.
But an anti-pipeline demonstration seems positively quaint next to the violence that has been occurring lately at other local events or public spaces around the Twin Cities, ranging from the disruptions at July 4th gatherings near downtown to shootings at the Mall of America to the recent shooting at Richfield High School's homecoming football game. Bad as they are, even those cases pale next to the nightmare scenarios of a Las Vegas-style mass shooting or a terror attack.
How much the security upgrade might cost and where the funds will come from are open questions. The public has already invested generously in the stadium, and any further demands on the public purse demand scrutiny. But if the choice is between safety and frugality, we'd like the scales to tip toward safety.