Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stadiums provide work for many

The following article originally appeared in the Pioneer Press and on on March 1, 2009 and was written by Brian Murphy.

Building legacy projects such as Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium, respective new homes for the Minnesota Twins and University of Minnesota Gophers, is treasured trade in the peripatetic construction business.

More vital than returning baseball and college football outdoors to Minneapolis, they are the only jobs in town for thousands of carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, ironworkers and skilled craftsmen with bleak prospects for maintaining employment during a deepening recession.

"Just lucky to be here because there's no other place to go," said 53-year-old carpenter Rich Lutz, a 27-year construction veteran working at Target Field. "This is the worst it's been since I've been around. Wintertime is sometimes slow. This year, there's nobody working."

Safety priorities and unrelenting schedules allow little time for worrying within the hardhat fraternity of Mortenson Construction, the general contractor for both stadiums.

Still, anxiety was palpable throughout both sites last week as workers focused on finishing the public-private funded projects punctually and within budget while pondering where they will earn their next paychecks.

"I've got a friend who was laid off in St. Paul from an electrical outfit and he's 100th or so on the list so they say he won't go back to work for two years -- two years!" said Target Field electrician Jeff Jones.

About 400 workers are wrapping up TCF Bank Stadium, which is 80 percent complete, down from a peak

of 740 last summer. Only 200 will be on site by May, with more peeling off each day leading up to the Aug. 7 deadline, according to project executive Paul Kitchings.

There are 700 builders at Target Field, where 60 percent of the work is finished. About 850 will be on hand through the summer. The ballpark is scheduled to be completed by March 3, 2010.

The staggered construction phases yield varying concerns among the subcontractors representing 30-plus trade unions. But they are united in a singular hope -- that one more stadium deal can be negotiated at the State Capitol to build a new home for the NFL's Vikings.

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, told a House committee last week that building a new stadium for the team on the existing site would create 8,000 more construction jobs -- essentially passing the baton from the Gophers and Twins sites.

Ten union and management workers at Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium interviewed for this story brought up the Vikings project without being prompted. And it is no wonder.

About 7,500 skilled craftsmen and women are idled in the Twin Cities. Projects either are underfinanced because of the credit crisis or delayed by the spiraling economy.

"In my career, I can't remember seeing that many people on the bench," said Daniel Mehls, the Mortenson executive overseeing Target Field.

TCF Bank Stadium ($288 million) and Target Field ($517 million) were the largest windfalls in the 55-year history of Minneapolis-based Mortenson. But standard $10 million to $15 million projects that are the lifeblood of most commercial contractors -- office buildings, apartment complexes, retail stores and health-care clinics -- have dried up.

"There's nothing in the pipeline for that," said Dick Anfang, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 60,000 trade workers in the state.

Anfang is lobbying the legislature on behalf of his constituents and the Vikings, selling the latest downtown development as a stimulus project.

However, financing the $954 million so-called Metrodome Next with a $700 million public investment has not gained traction among lawmakers struggling with a $4.8 billion budget deficit. Nor has it resonated with a retrenching public.

A January poll by MarketLine Research/In-Touch Survey Systems showed more than 77 percent of Twin Citians disapproved of any sales tax to help pay for a new Vikings stadium while 55 percent preferred that the project be privately funded.

Meanwhile, the hardhats cling to details emerging from the $780 million federal stimulus legislation for building wind farms and other renewable energy facilities that might keep them off the unemployment lines.

"I'm real nervous," said 26-year-old Neil Cooper, a general foreman on the TCF Bank site.

"There is work out there. But do you want to move to California with little kids?"

Cooper lives in Lake Elmo with a 16-month-old son while his wife is expecting their second child in April.

Others have faith that the designers and suits at diversified Mortenson will produce enough work for them to weather a downturn that has not bottomed out.

"We could all sit here and mope," said laborer Beth Bombardo of Lakeville, standing in the doorway of what will be the office of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "That doesn't do anybody any good. It's unproductive. It doesn't do our families any good, either."


Anonymous said...

People don't understand how much revenue is made by having a professional nfl team. Sure it costs the taxpayers money to build a stadium-unfair, but after 10 years the stadium is paid for and you get around 20-25 years of profit. They should look at brookdale mall. The mall is dead no major retailers are going to renew their contracts. The mall is located just outside mpls. by hwy 100, int 94, and int 694. The property around has all but dried up and would allow lots of corporate retail reconstruction to be built to accent the stadium. The parking lot would be large enough to bring back tailgating, and the lightrail/northstar line could be ran right by the stadium. The idea would put many people back to work and create more jobs. I know many people say the area is bad, but remember where Chicago put the bulls basketball stadium, and that turned the area around. I just want an outdoor stadium where we can tailgate again.

Anonymous said...

Build the stadium, Minnesota needs the Vikings, their going to tear down the dome anyways, might as well build a new stadium and create a bunch of new jobs, GO VIKINGS!!!!!!!!!

bigtim said...

the drive to get the Olympics to Minneapolis and the Vikings stadium drive people should get together.

Anonymous said...

Since my wife and I moved to Iowa, we spend about $200 on average per game. With approximately 13,000 season ticket holders that are out of state, the holders bring in more that $2 million per season into MN easy. This doesn't even address the amount of tax revenue the state gets beyond product purchases (gas tax, hotel tax, etc.). The MN legislature needs to take this issue seriously.

Anonymous said...

Have the Vikings play in the Gopher Stadium or ae they too good for that?

Anonymous said...

Gopher Stadium?? Are you serious??

Anonymous said...

build the stadium, Vikings are an outdoor team bring back the purple people eaters

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