With Super Bowl LII in the books and the 2019 Final Four countdown looming, a group of regional big thinkers is studying how and whether Minnesota should try to attract major cultural, arts and sports events more often.
Among the ideas being considered: Establish an oversight agency or association — possibly funded by tax dollars — to attract, plan and operate them.
Gov. Mark Dayton is paying attention. “This idea certainly deserves serious consideration,” he said. “We want Minnesota to hold major national events on a regular basis.”
Minnesotans are still basking in the afterglow of positive reviews for high-profile hospitality from the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the 2016 Ryder Cup, the 2017 ESPN X Games and the 2018 Super Bowl.
Except for the Ryder Cup, these blockbuster events followed hard on the opening of new taxpayer-subsidized buildings — Target Field in 2010 and U.S. Bank Stadium in August 2016.
With the housewarming parties over, the Twin Cities isn’t the obvious choice for future big-league events. Of the 52 Super Bowls, for example, only a few have been held in cold-weather cities. More popular are Sun Belt spots, bigger cities and tourist destinations. Greater Miami, New Orleans and Los Angeles have hosted a combined half of the 52 Super Bowls.
Jeff Hintz, CEO of the Minnesota PGA, who oversaw the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club, thinks the state should be included in the rotation for these events.
“We’ve proven as a community that we can execute the biggest events and execute them well,” he said.
‘Let’s get the facts’
Among those propelling the inquiry is Richard Davis, the most visible of the three chairs on the Super Bowl campaign. Davis, the soon-to-retire executive chairman at U.S. Bancorp, said he thinks big events show off Minnesota’s quality of life.
But he said the first step is getting solid information. “It would be wrong for a bunch of people with an opinion to get together and say, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” he said. “Let’s get the facts.”
The Itasca Project, a “virtual” group of civic leaders who meet a few times a year to wrestle with big questions for the region, is seeking answers to the threshold question: What good comes from hosting large events, whether they’re arts or culture or sports?
In charge of the effort for Itasca is Jim Dwyer, president and CEO of Michael Foods. “If we can, we should have a quantitative answer to this,” he said.
Consultant firm McKinsey & Co., which works pro bono for Itasca, is gathering data and will look at revenue and other civic payoffs through job creation, tax revenue, volunteerism and philanthropy.
If the consultants find a benefit, they will look at how other places court and host events. Do they have coordinating groups that are public, nonprofit or a combination?
Finally, they will ask what might work in the Twin Cities.
“There’s really an opportunity here to say, ‘How can we deploy some of the resources for boosting the region?’ ” Dwyer said.
Within six months, there should be some data to help make a recommendation. But it’s unclear whether the data will be conclusive or a recommendation will be made.
Davis said, “It’s not universally popular that this state needs to compete for all the big events all the time.” Just last week, Minneapolis bowed out of the bidding for the 2026 World Cup.
But Kate Mortenson, president and CEO of the 2019 Minneapolis Final Four Local Organizing Committee, said the Twin Cities has what it takes to emerge as an event destination. “Our No. 1 airport, light rail, world-class venues and amenities in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington — all climate-controlled, skyway-connected and weatherproof — have put us in a new world of opportunities,” she said.
One option is to keep doing what Minnesota does now, with ad hoc groups throwing their energy behind a single event. For the Super Bowl pitch, the Minnesota Vikings joined forces with Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention bureau, and Greater MSP, the regional economic development partnership.
Another option would be to create a permanent operating structure, as some cities do, that would ramp up and shrink as events come and go.
Other ideas include a permanent group that seeks out events and/or advises those working on an event. Or there’s the concept of letting an event grow organically, as the South by Southwest music-film-technology event in Austin, Texas, has done over 30 years.
If movers and shakers want to build a better magnet to Minnesota, how to pay for it will be a big and early question.
State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, and chairman of the House Job Growth and Energy committee, said when it comes to raising taxes, he is a “diamond-hard no.”
He suggests using Legacy Fund money for events and the departments of tourism and economic development for planning. “I’m all in favor of recruiting new events here. I’m not sure we need a new bureaucracy to do it,” he said.
Melvin Tennant, president of Meet Minneapolis and executive director of its sports arm, Sports Minneapolis, issued a statement saying he looks forward to “being part of the conversation and process, as it could considerably enhance our ongoing initiatives.”
As Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee CEO, Maureen Bausch oversaw the staff that needed to raise more than $52 million in private funds. She likes the idea of a dedicated pot of money to defray public costs but believes a permanent organization would run low on energy and creative spark. “You lose some of this ‘We’re going to make this the very best Super Bowl,’ ” she said.
She supports a public fund that could be tapped for certain expenses like security, road closures and lighting. She floated the concept of using tax revenue gleaned from tourists who visit for big events — such as hotel, rental car and ticket sales.
Texas, for example, has an enterprise fund that reimburses cities at a rate of up to $6.25 for every $1 spent on expenses such as security, facility improvement and maintenance.
Hintz sees promise in having a central spot to get operational advice. For example, when he was gearing up for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, the organization considered having events in downtown Minneapolis similar to what the NFL did for the Super Bowl.
Hintz said it would have been helpful to have someone experienced who could say, “Here’s what you should look at doing.”