Life Time Sport 1

Men stop and turn about as a woman takes the soccer ball in the opposite direction during free play among Life Time staff and members at Winter Park on Friday, Sept. 21. The air temperature was 52 degrees with a 14 mph west wind.

Life Time Inc. founder and CEO Bahram Akradi took note of how children these days don’t have the opportunities to play sports with neighborhood kids like they did when many grown-ups of today did when they were young.

Boys and girls typically play sports in leagues, at certain times, always quite organized, usually with dozens of adults watching, but they get much less time for free play.

Chanhassen-based Life Time is leasing Winter Park — the former headquarters of the Minnesota Vikings at 9520 Viking Drive in Eden Prairie — from the Eagan-based NFL franchise with hopes to make it a place for young and old to play soccer at their leisure or with coaching and officiating.

Instead of being called Life Time Fitness, it will be Life Time Sport.

Renovations are happening inside the Winter Park buildings. On Friday, Sept. 21, Akradi and other officials gathered with Twin Cities media on the practice fields. What once had been fields for practicing professional football are now striped for youth soccer.

Life Time Sport 2

A rendering shows the future of the Winter Park indoor facility. It was constructed in 1991 to replace a bubble dome so it could be a practice site for a team in Super Bowl XXVI in January 1992. The Washington Redskins practiced there and went on to defeat the Buffalo Bills 37-24.

Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren said the lease is for three years. He said Winter Park is a historical place for Minnesotans — opening in 1981 — and said he was glad it will remain in use for athletics. He said the Vikings and Life Time have been longtime partners; all players and front office staff are corporate members of Life Time.

“It was an easy deal to put together because of that trust,” Akradi said.

He said as soon as he heard of the move, he wanted to put a deal together.

Akradi said Life Time already has this model in place for basketball at its fitness facilities. Life Time Fitness has 138 locations in 38 markets in the United States and Canada.

He said parents will be able to bring their children to Winter Park for soccer and play 10-minute games in small groups — such as five-on-five or four-on-four — before rotating. Small groups are preferred for youth soccer because it lets players touch the ball more frequently. He said payment can be made by the day or the month.

He said Life Time has a pilot of the free-play soccer model in Lakeville. The Winter Park facility, Akradi said, should open Oct. 18.

“They can just show up and play games with others of the same age and level, and the referees also serve as coaches,” he said.

Life Time Sport 3

Life Time Fitness founder and CEO Bahram Akradi speaks before the cameras on Twin Cities media as Life Time Fitness staff and members play soccer behind him at Winter Park on Friday, Sept. 21.

He said there will be six to eight small-sided soccer fields indoors, along with 12 to 16 outdoor small-sided fields. However, the fields can be rearranged for larger purposes. Life Time Sport also will offer the familiar workout machines. 

The website for the wait list is Sport.Lifetime.Life/ComePlay.

Meanwhile, Warren and the Vikings’ owners — in the form of MV Eagan Ventures — are busy building a Scandanavian-themed hotel on 12 acres of the 200-acre Viking Lakes development in Eagan, near the new team headquarters. The 375,000-square-foot facility is slated to wrap up in the summer of 2020, offering 320 rooms, underground parking, a restaurant, pool, spa, fitness center and an 18,000-square-foot conference center.

Warren said the Vikings hadn’t determined long-term plans for the 15 acres of Winter Park.

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