Never a hotel hot spot, the north metro could finally gain an advantage on home game weekends.
A proposed new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills would have the potential to redefine the hospitality sector in the Twin Cities' north metro, enabling existing hotels there to boost their rates and spurring the development of new facilities, tourism industry officials say.
Last week's announcement of an agreement between the Vikings and Ramsey County on a proposed $1 billion home for the team on the site of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant has many political hurdles to overcome before it passes muster with the Legislature.
But that hasn't stopped north metro hotel industry experts from issuing optimistic predictions about what could be a profound effect on a part of town that has never really been known as a hot spot for the traveling public.
Hotels along the Interstate 694 corridor stretching from Boone Avenue in Brooklyn Park to Lexington Avenue in Shoreview would likely be the main beneficiaries of a new stadium in Arden Hills, said Ted Leines, CEO of Leines Hotel Advisors Inc.
Leines, who has brokered scores of hotel sales in the Twin Cities, has a special feel for the north metro because he grew up in the area. He said a new stadium there has the potential to shift the center of gravity of the region's hotel market.
"That whole corridor could really benefit," he said. "It could be like what happened along I-494 in Bloomington when Metropolitan Stadium was there. All those hotels along the strip blossomed, and the restaurants followed. It just created a synergy that brought in a lot of activity."
With a new stadium, hoteliers in such northern suburbs as Brooklyn Center, Fridley, New Brighton, Coon Rapids, Blaine, Lino Lakes, Ham Lake, Shoreview and Mounds View could see sizable jumps in what they could charge for rooms.
Right now, he said, they have a big competitive disadvantage with counterparts in the south and west metro areas.
"Some of those hotels have been fine and are making money but you just don't get the kind of performance you get down on the Bloomington strip -- you can't get that rate, you can't get that occupancy level, and they have too many days when they are not full."
In Bloomington, Eden Prairie and Plymouth, for instance, where many out-of-town Vikings fans now stay for games at the Metrodome, hotel owners can bump up rates as much as $20 per night on game weekends, and travelers don't flinch when handing it over.
"Of that $20, $19.98 goes straight to the bottom line," Leines said. "That's what the northern tier has not been able to capture. A stadium would change that for these hoteliers' third and fourth quarters."
The north metro's hospitality industry needs a boost, he said, pointing to several hotels there that have gone bankrupt, including the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park -- the I-694 corridor's only luxury meeting hotel. The 221-room establishment went into foreclosure in 2009 and was purchased last year by an investment group based in Rhode Island.
And that's not the only struggling hotel in an area dominated by economy and mid-range nameplates. Leines said several establishments in Coon Rapids are also having trouble finding guests and could use any kind of help they can get.
The epicenter of the north metro's hotel market is at I-694 and Lexington Avenue, less than two miles from the site. It boasts a cluster including a Super 8 hotel, a Hampton Inn and a Hilton Garden Inn. Other hotels near and along I-694 corridor include a Country Inn & Suites in Shoreview; a Homewood Suites in New Brighton; a Days Inn and the Mermaid AmericInn in Mounds View; and the Livinn Suites in Fridley.
A second hotel epicenter, further away from Arden Hills, is in Brooklyn Center, where a group of nine facilities are clustered around the I-694/Hwy. 100 interchange.
Should the stadium be built, another likely impact on the area's hotel industry would come from redevelopment, especially along Ramsey County Hwy. 10 in Mounds View, which would serve as a main artery into the site. That stretch -- a four-lane, former U.S. highway -- now sports a weathered, down-and-out look. Parts of it would likely get a major facelift as part of a massive infrastructure improvement component that would have to be part of a stadium funding package.
Tim Roche, president of the Twin Cities North Chamber of Commerce, said there is an array of redevelopment-ready parcels along Hwy. 10 that would work well as hospitality reuses.
"There's some interesting land possibilities on Highway 10," he said. "One is near the former Saturn of St. Paul car dealership on the west side, north of the Mermaid. There's housing there now that has been put up for commercial development."
Steve Markuson, director of the Twin Cities Gateway regional convention and visitors bureau, agreed that a Vikings stadium would greatly boost all kinds of commercial development along the I-64 corridor.
"Hotel development had been greatly slowed down with the recession and now is picking up again with the economic improvement, and we have had discussions with hoteliers even without the stadium announcement," he said, adding that several of the suburbs have land available for redevelopment and are angling to land hotels.
"Of course, for a stadium to happen, there will have to be major infrastructure improvements," Markuson said. "But I've talked to several hoteliers and they're extremely excited about the Vikings announcement. I would say the cities up here are cautiously optimistic about it at this point."
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer.