National Sports Center: A new hall for new expos

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 17, 2012 - 11:59 PM

The National Sports Center hopes to fill a niche need for mid-sized spaces for smaller outdoors shows and other exhibitions.

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Photos by Marlin Levison • mlevison@startribune.com The National Sports Center in Blaine has added an exposition hall that is intended to bring in outdoor-themed shows. Currently the sports company PUMA has a display in the hall featuring a room full of sport mannequins.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The National Sports Center is about soccer, golf and hockey, right? Cycling too.

But what about fly fishing? Or hunting?

The north metro complex is working to embrace those activities as well. No, it isn't adding an indoor stream or game reserve, but it has a new 21,000-square-foot Expo Center that officials expect to increasingly fill a demand for mid-sized outdoors shows and other exhibitions, said NSC spokesman Barclay Kruse.

Some outdoor shows can fill up huge venues like the Minneapolis Convention Center and RiverCentre in St. Paul. Some shows with a dedicated following can't.

"We're not on their scale," Kruse said of the big convention spaces. "It's a more affordable space. Plus, we have free parking, which especially for the outdoor community is a huge hit. Being in Anoka County as opposed to the center cities Minneapolis and St. Paul, there's a lot of outdoorsmen out here."

The $3.2 million Expo Center was completed in June, just in time for KTIS 98.5 FM's Joyful Noise Family Fest. The center was able to receive "conduit financing" from the city of Blaine, meaning it could use the city's tax-exempt status and credit rating to help with financing for the project. No city money went to the building, however. Officials expect that rental revenues will be ample to pay off the bonds, Kruse said.

The National Sports Center has created four annual trade shows to anchor the calendar for the Expo Center. The first was the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo, a show first launched years ago by the late Tom Helgeson, one of the Midwest's most prominent spokesmen for the sport and for conservation. After he died in 2010, his family, which still owned the show, took a one-year hiatus from the event before it was relaunched at the Schwan Center this year.

"It ended up that the leadership people at the National Sports Center are avid fly fishermen," Kruse said. "We met with the Helgeson family and said we'll take it over and continue it and revive it. It was a happy marriage."

That show will be held again in March in the new space. In addition, the center has created the Hard Water Ice Fishing Expo in November, the Minnesota Hunting and Fishing Swap in January and the Minnesota Anglers' Expo (previously called the Minnesota Bass Expo) in February.

The space is doing duty now as an extra-large Puma store for the duration of the USA Cup soccer tournament. The longtime attraction previously had been stuck back in a corner of the field house, Kruse said.

Both the field house and the Schwan Center conference facility had been available for exposition space, but neither was ideal, he said. The artificial turf in the field house had to be covered with hard flooring for events like TwinsFest, held there after the Metrodome roof collapsed. The gathering spaces in the conference center, however, will complement the expo hall when events include educational seminars and clinics, Kruse said.

A year and a half ago, the National Sports Center hired Greg Savino as director of campus events. The professional fisherman and avid hunter hoped to use his connections in the sporting industry to drum up interest in the center's events.

Unlike some of the bigger outdoors shows, he said, the ones he's developing will be focused on a single interest, rather than combining several activities into a single event. He noted that the center's 600-acre grounds mean that people can try out some equipment, like four-wheelers and snowmobiles. There's also space for testing fly-fishing rods and practicing archery.

The calendar is filling between those big dates, too, with pet shows, food shows and other events.

"Before we build something we have a plan," Savino said. "We don't just wait for the phone to ring."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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