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U.S. Bank Stadium’s path to Super Bowl 52 came with leaks, breaks and dead birds

Getting a $1.1 billion stadium ready to host a Super Bowl 18 months after it opens isn’t easy.

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NFL: Houston Texans at Minnesota Vikings Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The only other time Minnesota has hosted a Super Bowl was 26 years ago when Washington defeated the Buffalo Bills at the Metrodome.

This time — when the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles meet in Super Bowl 52 — it’ll be in U.S. Bank Stadium, a $1.1 billion facility that opened in 2016.

The new home of the Minnesota Vikings is a marvel of modern architecture with a translucent ceiling that angles down toward one sideline, gigantic pivoting doors, and a protruding point off one corner. It looks more spaceship than football stadium.

On Sunday — about 18 months after its doors opened — the eyes of the world will be on U.S. Bank Stadium. It’s the spotlight that Minnesota has anticipated since it was awarded the Super Bowl back in 2014, but the road to the big stage wasn’t entirely smooth.

In its first two NFL seasons, the stadium has had a few setbacks. Super Bowl 52 will likely go off without a hitch, but broken panels on the outside of the stadium, leaky walls, and plenty of dead birds were all part of the path to get ready for the big game:

Building a flawless stadium isn’t easy

Pouring more than $1 billion into a one-of-a-kind facility that doesn’t follow the cookie-cutter football stadium blueprint usually results in a few kinks along the way.

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in September, but has problems with its roof and audio to fix after its first season of NFL action. The issues for San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium are even worse — like its utter lack of shade for 49ers fans and inconvenient parking lots — because they will require more than small tweaks.

Relatively speaking, U.S. Bank Stadium is just fine. If it wasn’t for the weather in Minnesota, that is.

On July 14, a2016 — eight days before the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the stadium — extreme weather caused some zinc panels on the exterior of the building to partially disengage. The Minnesota Sports Facility Authority (MSFA) said that the panels didn’t need to be replaced.

But there was definitely a problem. The loose panels caused leaks inside the stadium, something that isn’t ideal in a city that gets about 45 inches of snow per year.

Five months later, a windy December night in Minneapolis ripped a panel off the stadium entirely. John Wood, the senior vice president of Mortenson Construction, the general contractor for the stadium, explained that the fasteners for the panels couldn’t hold up to the weather.

“These connections are not adequate to resist the 90 mph winds,” Wood said, via FOX 9 in Minnesota.

An additional 4,000 fasteners were installed, and the project took until October 2017 to finish.

Mission accomplished. At least for now, it looks like U.S. Bank Stadium’s leaks and loose panels are a thing of the past.

The building’s propensity for killing birds is an ongoing problem, though.

Birds beware

Before construction on the stadium even started, bird conservationists met with the MSFA and the Vikings to discuss concerns about the design. Audubon Minnesota, the state’s largest bird advocate group, advised against using nearly 200,000 square feet of glass for the sake of uniqueness and called it a “death trap” on the way.

“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,” said Audubon Minnesota Executive Director Matthew Anderson. “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. The Vikings recently approved spending millions and millions of additional dollars to make sure the stadium is ‘iconic’ – surely they also want to make sure it’s not a death trap. We’re asking them to change their minds and do the right thing.”

The stadium went ahead and used a whole bunch of glass anyway, and — surprise, surprise — a bunch of birds died.

City Pages called the stadium a “bird killing machine” in February 2017 with volunteers of a few conservation groups counting 60 dead birds around the building over an 11-week period. The estimation is that it kills close to 500 birds annually, more than double the next most deadly building in Minnesota for birds.

A solution — or at least a giant step in the right direction — wasn’t and isn’t that difficult. “Bird-safe glass” is slightly less transparent and would’ve been about $1 million more expensive to install at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The reason against that decision is that it apparently wouldn’t have made the stadium shiny enough. Via USA Today:

Because almost $500 million in tax money was used for the $1.1 billion stadium, the stadium commission held monthly meetings during which the public could offer input. Venables said she was among many people that urged decision makers to use bird-safe glass.

Venables, along with Greenfield and Bahls, said the stadium decision-makers indicated they opted for the highly reflective glass because of aesthetics.

”We said, ‘Why can’t we have both? Why can’t we save birds and make it pleasing in its design?’”

The MSFA is leading a scientific study of the stadium’s affect on birds that is expected to be finished in 2019. At that point — long after the Super Bowl spotlight has come and gone — maybe it will be time to sacrifice some U.S. Bank Stadium gleam for the sake of birds.

It’s going to be brutally cold at Super Bowl 52. The forecast is for temperatures somewhere between seven degrees above zero or five below. But the sparkling stadium in Minnesota will keep things nice and warm for the Patriots, Eagles, Justin Timberlake and everyone else who will be there Sunday.

In all likelihood, there won’t be any stadium problems. The panels have been secured, and it’s not migratory season so there won’t be dead birds strewn about.

The path to get to the Super Bowl has featured many hurdles — some of which were sidestepped instead of cleared — but U.S. Bank Stadium made it to its time on the catwalk and the weekend will (probably) go off without a hitch.