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Metrodome roof to live on as duffel bags

Duluth Pack is making bags from the inner lining of the roof of the Metrodomel. (Duluth Pack photo)

By Mike Creger

Forum News Service

DULUTH -- Someone let the cat out of the Duluth Pack duffel bag a week early.

Social media went abuzz late this week when word got out that the Duluth outdoor gear maker was about to introduce a duffel and shell bag made out of material once used in the roof of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

“It’s really blown up today,” Duluth pack President Tom Sega said Friday of online comments about the bags.

The company had planned to launch the limited line at the Minnesota State Fair that begins next Thursday. But Jim Cunningham, an announcer for the Minnesota Twins, got talking about the bags this week with a sportswriter at Target Field and soon word got around.

Cunningham and Tim O’Phelan, a businessman and son of a longtime Twins physician, bought the entire inner layer of the Metrodome roof after it collapsed in 2010. O’Phelan said he and Cunningham acquired the fabric on a “total whim” — going to the Metrodome in May 2011 on word that the roof material would be sold. He said farmers purchased much of the outside layer of the inflatable roof to use as covers and others purchased small pieces and sold them as memorabilia.

So the pair decided to shell out $4,000 for the entire inner layer of Teflon-coated fiberglass, about three acres. They found a storage facility in central Minnesota and “we kind of sat on it,” O’Phelan said in an interview.

They still weren’t sure what they might do with it all when O’Phelan toured a leather factory and noticed that the materials used there seemed similar to what they had. Then they found Duluth Pack.

“You can’t rip it. It’s waterproof. It’s kind of like the materials Duluth Pack uses,” he said.

They approached Sega several months ago, who responded “pretty cool.”

Using a piece of a historical Minnesota building was appealing, Sega said. After the coming Minnesota Vikings season, the Metrodome will be torn down and a new stadium will rise in its place. Artifacts will become hot items, the partners hope. But they still had to make a product.

“It’s tough as nails,” Sega said, adding it was good for cutting, sewing and riveting. “We found it very doable.”

But it was dirty.

O’Phelan said they tried hand scrubbing and other methods and were getting discouraged. Then they tried an industrial tile scrubber. Three decades of grime started coming off “like butter,” he said.

Duluth Pack is calling the bags a limited item. They’re available online and at the Duluth store in Canal Park only. Sega said his company plans to use the entire store of roof material. O’Phelan and Cunningham will get a percentage of sales. The duffel bag is listed at $485 and the shell bag at $160.

O’Phelan said the material has Metrodome character and they might even make some bags with the panel seams showing.

As far as the partners know, this is the first re-use of the fabric.

O’Phelan said he was glad to keep the material out of a landfill, which had been the plan before the roof sale.

“We were told it would take 1,500 years for (the fabric) to decompose,” he said. “This is a green story as well.”

Professional athletes who played in the Metrodome are likely customers, Sega said. O’Phelan said he got some interest from a curator of the old stadium display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

For Sega and O’Phelan, the bags are about owning a slice of Minnesota life. The Metrodome opened in Minneapolis in 1982 as the home of the Twins and Vikings. Numerous concerts and truck pulls have been held there along with a Super Bowl, two Final Fours and two World Series wins for the Twins.

“What took place under this roof will never be duplicated again,” Sega said.

“The dome has been maligned over the years,” O’Phelan said. “But anyone who’s been there has at least one memorable moment.”

Forum News Service

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