Oh Say Can you See

LAST WEEK'S DESIGN rollout for the so-far-unbranded Minnesota Wild hockey arena was a publicist's dream: Normally grizzled sportswriters waxed enthusiastic about the building's broad, lower-bowl seating, which they compared to the much-loved University of Minnesota's Mariucci Arena. The St. Paul Pioneer Press--with its usual objectivity on all matters arena--gushed that "Joe Six-Pack Will Feel Like a King in This Place." Columnist Tom Powers focused on three things: "Will there be enough toilets? Will the beer lines be long? Will the seats be wide enough to accommodate our expanding wintertime fannies?"

How about: "Can Joe Six-Pack see the game from his seat?"

Unlike Mariucci--which consists of just one massive 10,000-seat deck--the 18,500-seat Wild arena will stack on top of that not one, but two levels of private seating (suites plus eight rows of club seats, unprecedented among local sports palaces), and only then, a 4,000-seat upper deck. It's way up there--in a building where tickets will average $40 apiece--that Joe Six-Pack might be able to afford to sit.

How high up will the cheap seats be? Vertigo-inducing, compared to the NHL's last Twin Cities home, the Met Center (which was built before the Suite Era), and probably higher than those at Target Center, which has just a single row of private boxes.

It's hard to be precise, because much as they did with the arena's wing-and-a-prayer financing plan, the Wild held their splashy press conference without all the details in place. Ray Chandler, the arena's project director, says that because the seating configuration has not been finalized, he could not come up with even approximate seat distances from the ice. (Even the theoretical Twins ballpark, when announced last year, featured a measurement from the upper deck to the field.)

"You've hit on a problem--some of those fans will be in a different area code," acknowledges Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the group that oversees the Metrodome and Target Center, which will compete with the Wild's arena for events. "Architects have done a disservice by thinking that location to the rink or floor is vital for people who buy suites, but they buy them for different reasons. You could put one level of suites up higher, so you're not pushing the upper deck that much farther up and making it harder to sell." Of choosing between closer cheap seats versus lots of suites and club seats, Lester says, "Something has to give. You can do A, or B, but you can't do both."

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