More than a week before the Final Four kicked off in Minneapolis, the CEO and president of the event’s local organizing committee was asking the state for up to $2 million to morph that committee into a permanent event-marketing operation.
And Kate Mortenson has been stepping up that pitch on behalf of Minnesota Sports Corp., the nonprofit she incorporated, ever since the NCAA men’s basketball extravaganza wrapped up Monday.
“I personally don’t feel like we have to rely on the whims of bid cycles. We can make our own success,” she said.
Mortenson led the campaign in 2014 to win the Final Four tournament for Minneapolis under Minnesota Sports Corp., doing business now as the local organizing committee. For the new group, she hopes to maintain a handful of core staff members whose expertise stems from their work on the Final Four.
The group would complement the work of more than a dozen regional convention bureaus, including the largest, Meet Minneapolis, she said. It has hired a lobbyist, Amy Koch, former Republican state Senate majority leader, to pursue state funding. A bill is being drafted but hasn’t yet been introduced.
The concept, however, already has encountered formidable opposition.
Maureen Bausch, the CEO of the Super Bowl 52 Host Committee in 2018, said that before a new group receives state money, “impartial, professional, experienced people … [need] to determine what, if any other organization truly is needed and if so, what funding model.”
In preparing for the $50 million, 10,000-volunteer Super Bowl, Bausch got a sense of how other states fund major events. She said she found the most effective model to be that of Texas, where a statewide fund reimburses events for costs such as public safety, convention center use and street closures. A stable commitment of state money makes additional private fundraising for events easier, she said.
The Texas fund, she said, “is very well-managed with long-proven formulas and checks and balances to make sure that designated organizations receive the money.”
City Council Member Lisa Goodman said the Mortenson plan is duplicative and unnecessary, and that Mortenson is making the push without consulting Meet Minneapolis. Mark Andrew, chairman of the board of Meet Minneapolis, said: “This is not the time for state funding to set up an overlay organization.”
As support for the proposal, Mortenson pointed to a recent study commissioned by the Itasca Project, a group of CEOs that meets privately to discuss regional issues.
The study, coordinated by Jim Dwyer, president and CEO of Michael Foods, calls for a “more sustainable way” to “capitalize on its assets.”
Dwyer sent notice to some Itasca members encouraging support for Mortenson’s monetary request to the state.
He wrote that it would be used to “build off the talent and infrastructure of MN Sports Corp. and focus on incubating and maximizing events to drive economic impact, increase positive visibility for the region and the state, and increase civic participation and community impact.”
Mortenson has ties to Itasca. Her husband, David Mortenson, is former chairman of the board for Itasca as well as the Final Four/Minnesota Sports Corp. nonprofit. He is chairman of the homegrown construction giant, M.A. Mortenson, which bears his grandfather’s name and built the $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium among other notable sports venues.
The Itasca study envisions a “regional events catalyst” (REC) to develop regional “sweet spot” events, like South by Southwest in Texas, alongside an ongoing series of “large rotating events.”
It suggests a core group of four to six employees at the REC, with an annual budget of $1 million to $2 million.
The REC would provide marketing expertise for events and promote the region as a place to live, work and visit. Expertise would include coordination of volunteers and local governments.
Kate Mortenson said the window will quickly close on the opportunity as the Final Four committee completes its work next month and experts on the staff find new jobs. “If we can get the resources committed, we have a core high-performing team,” she said.
As for her own role, Mortenson — a former TV news producer — wants to leverage social capital and credibility earned from the Final Four, but says in an e-mail, “I have not committed to a particular role with [Minnesota Sports Corp.] continuing its work as an REC.”
According to Mortenson, the group would ensure that big events will maintain high Minnesota production standards and cultivate different events beyond sports, such as thought conventions.
Her wish list includes an annual football game for historically black colleges and universities that would be tied to a job fair. She mentioned expanding the upcoming 2020 Cross-Country World Cup at Theodore Wirth Park beyond a ski race.
Andrew, however, said many that come to town already have their own operations teams and sponsors to run things. He and others pointed out that Meet Minneapolis has a $14 million annual budget, $10 million of which comes from the city.
Andrew noted findings of the Itasca report itself as evidence that the current system works. According to the report, researchers analyzed 15 cities that have played host to the Final Four or Super Bowl since 2000. “We’re confident that the Twin Cities leveraged our Super Bowl investments better than these other host cities,” the report says.
Mychal Vlatkovich, spokesman for Mayor Jacob Frey, said the mayor doesn’t support the Mortenson plan right now.
“Mayor Frey would support the new group coordinating with existing entities like Meet Minneapolis to ensure multiple groups are not competing for the same, limited resources with duplicative goals,” Vlatkovich said. “Until that happens, an allocation of funding is premature.” Goodman expressed an identical concern.
The funding isn’t in Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget for the next two years. Spokesman Teddy Tschann said that Walz was happy the state is drawing major sporting events, and that the governor “will review any forthcoming legislation and weigh the economic impact these large-scale events have.”
State Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said it’s premature to support a proposal absent specifics, but he likes the concept of a coordinated effort.
“I believe that big events are important for Minnesota. They show off our state and provide great economic benefits,” he said.
Andrew said Meet Minneapolis is willing to talk — at some point in the future.
“If the Mortensons and Itasca wish to engage with Meet Minneapolis after the session, they are invited to sit down with us,” he said.