Audubon Society, Vikings at odds over new stadium’s windows

Audubon Minnesota surveys downtown Twin Cities structures and has found more than 125 species of birds have fatally collided with windows since 2007. They have concerns about the design of the Vikings' new stadium, which is under construction and is set to feature 200,000 square feet of glass.

Courtesy: Minnesota Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS — No, the Vikings and the folks behind constructing their new stadium don’t want a foreground littered with avian carcasses.

But they’re not about to acquiesce to Audubon Minnesota’s recent requests to change the design in order to better protect the state’s winged creatures.

According to the conservation and education society, the new buildings’ large, glass structure presents a "death trap" for birds.

"We’re talking about a billion dollar stadium here, and the cost to save perhaps thousands of migratory birds — and make the Vikings a global leader in green stadium design — is about one-tenth of one percent of that," Audubon Minnesota executive director Matthew Anderson said in a statement issued Wednesday. "Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money is going to build this stadium, and we know the people of Minnesota do not want their money killing birds."

Audubon’s complaints cites U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Smithsonian Institution findings that up to 988 million birds are killed annually in the United States by collisions with buildings, especially ones featuring glass windows. Audubon volunteers regularly survey downtown Twin Cities structures and have found more than 125 species of native migratory birds have fatally collided with windows since 2007.

But Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen says the stadium designers and builders have done all they can and will continue to do so.

That means the planned glass stays. As-is.

"One of the design goals was to create a building that was more connected and integrated with the community than the Metrodome had been," Kelm-Helgen said in a written response to the Audubon chapter’s complaints. "The ability to see in and out of the stadium was what led us to the design that included the ETFE roof and operable doors on the downtown facing wall."

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Audubon Minnesota says the Vikings and the MSFA last week rejected calls to use a different, glazed type of glass and special lighting techniques to keep birds from smashing into the stadium, which upon its 2016 completion will feature about 200,000 square feet of transparent glass.

The two sides met regularly after the stadium design and budget were finalized, according to the MSFA’s release, and discussed ways to mitigate the danger posed to the state’s manifold species of fowl. The MSFA and Vikings agreed to follow Audubon’s "BirdSafe/Lights Out" procedures that reduce unnecessary lighting of buildings during the animals’ spring and fall migration cycles.

But that’s not enough, Audubon Minnesota bird-friendly communities manager Joanna Eckles says.

"We are grateful that the MSFA will be incorporating some of our recommendations regarding lighting design and operations, but lighting is just one part of the problem," Eckles claims. "The huge expanses of glass, especially facing a new park, are a real cause for concern. Our request was that they meet either the state requirement or the nationally recognized LEED standard for bird safety. In the end, they did neither."

State law requires bond-funded buildings to feature certain mechanisms that cut down on bird endangerment, and $462 million worth of state bonds are being used to finance the Vikings’ new home.

But the stadium design was approved before recent changes to bird-friendly state guidelines were enacted, the MSFA says. It’d cost an additional $1.1 million to use "bird-safe" glass at this point, something the MSFA isn’t willing to do.

"We have met several times with the Audubon Society and . . . (looked) at all options for design and operational solutions to minimize bird collisions," the MSFA release read. "We will continue to work with the Audubon Society on operational enhancements that will help make the facility bird friendly."

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