With all tournament events within a mile of one another, the upcoming NCAA Final Four in downtown Minneapolis will be easily walkable.
“We want people to come downtown,” Final Four local organizing committee operations chief Cydni Bickerstaff said. “Come to work Friday, but knock off early and take advantage of all that’s here.”
Final Four refers to the four teams remaining from what began Tuesday night as a field of 68 men’s college basketball teams. The monthlong one-and-done national tournament is called March Madness — even though it culminates in April this year — and the games over the next two weekends will determine who gets to travel to Minneapolis for the finale, college basketball’s ultimate prize.
That means that for a span of four days the city will be the center of the college basketball world, with coaches and fans coming from across the country to network, relax and watch the games.
U.S. Bank Stadium will play host to a series of events beginning Friday, April 5, with free practices open to the public at the stadium and free festivities kicking off at the Armory, Convention Center and Nicollet Mall. Two games will be played Saturday night, April 6, to determine which two teams play in the national championship Monday night, April 8.
An estimated 23 million TV viewers are expected to watch the final weekend, with some 97 million watching games overall. The Minneapolis Final Four host committee anticipates 94,000 visitors in town for the event and an economic infusion of $148 million.
Easy to get around
In January and February 2018, the NFL’s Super Bowl extravaganza sprawled across downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul and the Mall of America. Although U.S. Bank Stadium was used only for the game, the NFL began installing a fenced security perimeter around the stadium weeks in advance.
That’s not going to happen for the Final Four. Roads, however, will start to close Monday and continue in the lead-up and aftermath of the championship game on April 8.
Barricades will first go up on Chicago Avenue along the western length of the stadium, as well as a low-traffic side street north of the building that bisects two parking lots.
Other streets around the stadium won’t close until April 3, two days before the practices. Those roads will also be the last around the stadium to reopen on April 12, four days after the championship game. As the games and events approach, more roads will either close or be restricted.
Nicollet Mall will be partly closed, much as it was for the Super Bowl. The Tip-Off Tailgate event (featuring a Ferris wheel), other outdoor activities and broadcasts are scheduled on the mall from S. 8th to 12th streets.
Bus traffic will be rerouted during the event, with 10th and 11th streets closed or restricted for a block on either side of the mall. There will be restricted vehicle crossings at the mall on 8th, 9th and 12th streets.
“The biggest thing for people to understand is there’s going to be easy ways to get around,” Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said.
Throughout the Final Four period, all buses and light-rail trains will run on their regular schedules. The U.S. Bank Stadium LRT stop will remain open, but fans will be encouraged to exit at Government Plaza Station — in front of Minneapolis City Hall, the first stop west of the stadium — to be closer to the main security entrance on the Commons.
One unique feature this year will be the “Grab a Buick” stations scattered around downtown and offering free rides. Buick drivers will take riders who show up anywhere for free (aside from private residences) within a 5- to 7-mile radius, Bickerstaff said.
The Minneapolis Convention Center will host the Final Four Fan Fest, an activity showcase for kids. The Final Four Dribble will circle the building on Sunday, where kids can dribble a basketball around the Convention Center’s perimeter to gain free entry into the event.
‘Friendly and approachable’
The Final Four doesn’t bring the high-level federal security seen at the Super Bowl. The football game is a Level 1 national security event, which means federal resources become available for protection. The Final Four is a Level 3 event, according to Minneapolis Police Lt. Jon Kingsbury, deputy incident commander for public safety.
However, Kingsbury said, the Final Four is generally “as impactful as the Super Bowl on the city. … The downtown area will be even busier.”
The Final Four team is using the same surveillance technology used at the Super Bowl, and it’s set up in the same secret location. The security screens provide crisp real-time images from around downtown and the stadium so officials can take action if necessary.
“This is a family-friendly event; our officers are all looking forward to interacting with the public — being friendly and approachable,” Kingsbury said.
The Final Four has one logistical wild card: the hotels where the four teams stay, all of them downtown. The hotels, decorated with massive images of their players and logos, will be magnets for fans trying to get close to players. Depending on who wins and who stays where, count on some dancing in the streets that Monday night.