MINNEAPOLIS —As the Vikings, Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and Mortenson Construction celebrated the "topping out" of U.S. Bank Stadium, the bottom fell out of the clouds.
The resulting rain didn't dampen the celebration of what Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said is a very exciting milestone.
Wilf was joined by his brother, Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf, family members and front office personnel who expressed congratulations and thanks to dedicated construction workers with a ceremony and catered lunch that featured grilled pork chops. In addition to the lunch, the Vikings provided 1,500 workers with knit hats, and Mortenson provided them with long-sleeve "topping out" T-shirts.
View images from Thursday's "topping out" ceremony at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"We wanted to thank everyone who helped make this project happen to get to this point, especially the construction workers and all the people that have worked so hard on this project," Wilf said. "It's been a long journey, but we're very excited that this is starting to become a reality, especially for our fans. When they come into this building, they're going to see a state-of-the-art building they can enjoy for generations with their families, and we couldn't be more excited about that."
The Wilfs signed the I-beam after extending the opportunity for all Vikings employees and the diverse construction workforce to leave their stamps on the steel with purple and black markers.
Vikings legends Alan Page, Carl Eller and Chuck Foreman attended the signing, greeted construction workers and posed for selfies when the men and women asked.
Topping out is a tradition with Scandinavian roots. It celebrates placement of the highest or final beam. Although steel provides the structural support for this building instead of the timber used on the buildings that launched the tradition, a tree was placed on top of the beam, along with an American flag.
Lightning in the area delayed hoisting and placement of the final I-beam, which will rest 214 feet above the playing field, until Friday.
The I-beam is part of more than 11,000 tons of steel that has been placed by 140 ironworkers from LeJeune Steel Company, Danny's Construction and Iron Workers Local 512 over the course of 240,000 work hours.
The stadium, which broke ground in December 2013, is nearly 75 percent complete and remains on schedule for completion in July 2016.
Mortenson Senior Vice President John Wood said Superintendent Dave Mansell has shown he's "a master planner, a master builder" during the course of the project Mansell began planning in fall of 2012 when Mortenson prepared its proposal that was selected by the Vikings and the MFSA.
"There's no human being that knows more about this project than Dave does," Wood said. "There's over 23,000 work activities in that schedule. As evidence of the phenomenal planner he is, when we looked back at that schedule that Dave prepared in December 2012, we're going to be erecting this beam nine [now eight] days earlier than Dave planned in that schedule.
"That's in spite of growth in the building, change in the building that we've had to roll with as the project proceeded," Wood continued. "I don't know anyone like him, and I want to add my congratulations to Dave for this great accomplishment."
Mansell said he recalled meeting with Wood at the onset of the project and Wood asking if there was a particular person or thing he "had to have" to make the project a success.
"There's a few, a couple of them as I was going to sleep every night and hoping and praying for Ames Construction (handled excavating and backfill) so we could get the dirt out," Mansell said. "I was worried about that and I knew we were going to self-perform the concrete and we've got some of the best craft workers in the country, so I wasn't worried about that.
"But when I looked at the steel structure, I just went, 'Oh, (shoot)!' " Mansell continued. "So, as I thought about that, there's only one person in my mind, and I've worked with a lot, and that's Dave McStott, aka Scooter. I don't think there's anybody better in the business. Thank you as my friend and my co-worker. I appreciate everything you've done."
McStott said he wanted to thank the "Big Guy in the sky" and is appreciative of the owners of Shakopee-based Danny's Construction "for believing in us."
"They took a chance on this project because it's pretty complex. We think it's going to work out," McStott said. "The engineering staff. The iron workers that are standing right here, I believe, are the best iron workers in the industry. They had to be (because of U.S. Bank Stadium's bold design and geometry)."
After seeing the work of the architects, engineers and construction team members, Mark Wilf said, "We feel we have the best talent on this project."
"I think our fans are going to realize that when they sit in their bigger seats, look at the bigger screens, eat the better food, go to the clubs and do all the great things that a modern NFL stadium should have," Wilf said. "Most importantly, we're excited for our fans, that they're going to be able to enjoy this for generations."
An estimated 1.6 million work hours remain, but Wood emphasized there's enough time to work safely during the ceremony.
Wood began the ceremony by asking for a moment of silence in honor of Jeramie Gruber, who tragically died at the site, and another worker who is still recovering from injuries last month.
Almost in one motion, the workers removed their hard hats, some of which had "In Memory of JG" stickers and placed them over their hearts. All agreed the loss of Gruber was one too many.
In less than a year U.S. Bank Stadium will have become the Vikings home, but its impact will reach beyond game days. The $1.1 billion stadium that is the centerpiece of surging development in the Downtown East area that will include the recently announced Medtronic Plaza, a three-acre gateway to the stadium.
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said the stadium has come a considerable way from the spreadsheets she reviewed at its start.
"It's such a big day. I'm so proud of the small part I was able to play on this," Smith said. "This building is going to be a billion dollar piece of public asset that our people will be able to use year-round. It's not only a home for the Vikings, which is fantastic, it's also going to be a new giant living room for everybody in Minnesota, and that's what I'm most proud of."
View the final images of the new Vikings stadium showing the Vikings' locker room, concourses and other shots. For more visit newminnesotastadium.com.
Vikings Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley said events like Super Bowl LII (February 2018) and the 2019 NCAA Men's Final Four that have already been awarded, as well as development around the stadium illustrate the economic development that is exceeding projections that were made during advocacy for the new stadium.
It wouldn't be possible, Bagley said, without impressive teamwork that deserved to be recognized.
"It's an opportunity to stop and pause and thank everybody for the incredible team effort it's taken to get to this point, but there's still a lot of hard work to go," Bagley said. "It's nice to talk to (the workers). It's a pretty good sampling of Minnesota. When you talk to a lot of the workers, you hear how proud they are to be part of this project and how much they love the Vikings, so it's really cool to have that interaction.
"We're excited, but we've still got our nose to the grindstone pretty hard. It's going to be great," Bagley continued. "When we get there, it will be a sense of accomplishment. There's still so much work to do, but it's going great and the proof is in the building and what it's going to be. We're convinced it's going to be the best stadium in the NFL, the best fan experience in the league."