Minnesota’s Maiden Voyage

Vikings CFO Steve Poppen ’92 is ready to watch the NFL’s newest stadium set sail.

By Robin Strathdee

Standing tall at the site of what was once the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis reflects the changing character of the city’s east side. U.S. Bank Stadium is an impressive sight with 95-foot-tall entryways of steel and glass that tower above visitors. The new home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings is the largest single construction project in Minnesota’s state history, and Evangel graduate Steve Poppen ’92 has been providing leadership for the project since its inception.

Poppen is vice president and chief financial officer for the Vikings organization as he enters his 18th season. He’s been with the team through some of its most exciting times, including two NFC championship games. But, he says, nothing compares to the satisfaction of seeing the stadium project come to completion after 12 years of dedicated effort.

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(Above) A rendering of U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings new stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Below) A live photograph taken in August 2016 (PC Star Tribune).

The project has sparked a revitalization in the city, as more than $1 billion in new building permits have been issued in the area surrounding the stadium. The structure itself is a world-class facility that stands nearly 30 stories tall at its highest point. Team owner Zygi Wilf and everyone who contributed to the project wanted to ensure that the new fan experience would be second to none in the sports entertainment industry.

Poppen and several others began working on the first drafts of the proposal and legislation for the project in 2001. That process required collaboration between several groups, including the Wilf family, bankers, state officials,and the Public Sports Authority. The project’s many stakeholders had goals and requirements that ballooned the plans into a $1 billion proposition.

Costs for the finished product will top that number as the final touches are administered this summer. It is a stadium built by Minnesota, as 90 percent of the construction dollars involved with the project were paid to Minnesota companies, and 275 Minnesota businesses were involved in the process.

During the stadium’s development and construction, Poppen was stretched by the task of pulling together a packaged proposal that met the needs of every group involved. He was also challenged to stay focused on God’s plans for him and for the project.

05_18_snapshots_US+Bank_Stadium“I spent a lot of time considering what God would want to accomplish through this and remembering Psalm 37: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart’,” Poppen said. “Still, it was a huge challenge to focus on creating our moment as an organization and community rather than my moment as an individual.”

Poppen’s dedication to the project also required understanding from his wife Christy (Newby) ’92 and four children as the process became more involved. He says he did everything possible to create work/life balance and engage his kids, even as two of them (Andrew and Natalie) left home to attend Evangel.

“I made it to every performance and game, even if that meant conference calls from the sidelines,” Poppen said. “It was my family, and fighting for balance, that kept me grounded as the project took shape.”

Above all, Poppen said, the strongest lesson he learned through this decade-long process was patience. The ball was set in motion for the stadium project in 2001, and final legislative approval didn’t come until 2012. It would be another full year before the financing for the project would be approved and completed.

“I had to learn to wait, and to trust that when you’re in the fire and everything seems to be going down in flames, that the Lord has everything in control and everything is where it should be. It was a hard lesson,” he said.
When the final stadium renderings were presented to the community in September of 2013, Poppen said the response from everyone involved was overwhelming.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “It was the moment when I knew for sure that this project was going to be amazing.”

Looking forward, Poppen is excited for the official ribbon cutting at the stadium in late July. The Vikings will play their preseason home-opener August 28 against the San Diego Chargers. Their first meeting with longtime rival the Green Bay Packers will be on September 18. Further down the road, U.S. Bank Stadium will host the 2018 Super Bowl and the 2019 NCAA Final Four.

Knowing that Evangel is hoping to take on its own – smaller scale – stadium project in the next several years, Poppen offered this advice: “Don’t underestimate the power of a stadium to bring the entire campus together with a shared cause,” he said. “A project like that has the power to unite an entire community.”

Robin Strathdee serves as Social Media Specialist at Evangel.