Two proposed new stadium sites for the Minnesota Vikings professional football team, especially one only 300 feet from the Catholic Basilica of St. Mary, have the church’s rector “very concerned.”
“I can't imagine how our thousands of Sunday worshippers would be able to compete with the more than 60,000 people who attend a Vikings game – there simply isn't that much room in this area and the traffic, congestion, tailgating and parking issues alone could be disastrous for our Sunday worship schedule,” Fr. John Bauer said at a Jan. 10 press conference.
In a Jan. 9 letter to members and friends of the basilica community, the rector said that the congregation of 6,300 households comes from throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area for weekend Masses and weekday programs. Thousands of visitors also attend liturgies, concerts, outreach support, lectures, classes and other events.
Parking for present events is already challenging, he said, and traffic for the construction and operation of the stadium and event center would adversely affect the basilica’s ability to continue its programs.
Gov. Mark Dayton and city officials are collecting feedback and proposals for stadium sites for a 48-hour period ending Jan. 12, the archdiocesan newspaper The Catholic Spirit reports.
A proposed site on Linden Avenue is two blocks from the basilica, while a site at the Farmer’s Market is also a concern to the rector.
The stadium site could also affect the historic buildings of the basilica and its school, which are sites on the National Historic Register.
“The basilica is currently a beacon on the skyline, and the notion of a major stadium so close to this historic building is not comforting,” Fr. Bauer said.
The construction could cause additional structural damage to the historic buildings and interfere with ongoing long-term maintenance efforts.
A new stadium nearby could also harm the financial health of the parish.
The basilica uses a site near Linden Avenue for its Basilica Block Party, one of its major fundraising events. It presently rents its school building to a charter school, a source of “significant revenue” that could also be affected.
“I support the Vikings and want them to stay in Minnesota,” Fr. Bauer said in his letter. “I think they are an asset to our state and to our local community. It is good that we work to retain them.”
He hopes that the basilica’s representatives are able to be “a voice at the table” in any discussion about a new stadium at nearby sites.
“I am convinced that working together in good will, with mutual respect, and with an openness to a variety of ideas and possibilities, no issue is insurmountable,” he said.
Previous urban projects have significantly changed the basilica community.
The basilica was almost forced to close after the construction of I-94 in the 1960s. The project resulted in a “huge” loss of parishioners and almost ended the congregation, according to the Basilica Landmark, a nonprofit organization that supports the Basilica of St. Mary.
The basilica has since raised $30 million for efforts to restore the campus.
“After four decades, the Basilica has finally rebuilt its membership and reestablished its position as a community destination for so many individuals,” Fr. Bauer said Jan. 10. “If a stadium is built a football's throw away from us, it will severely limit who will be able to get to us and how we can help them.”
Fr. Bauer told The Catholic Spirit that he has talked with legislators, city officials and others involved in the process.
The Vikings team has contacted the basilica and has been “very gracious about our concerns,” he reported.
The team has not advocated for one particular site and it seemed to have “a willingness to listen to other opinions.”