Long before Tuesday night’s first All-Star pitch at Target Field comes the first whiff.
Taxis have been stocked with special air freshener, hoping to give thousands of baseball aficionados visiting this week a sweet-smelling first impression as they hail airport cabs. Then there are the 5,700 linear feet of red carpet, deep-cleaned and ready for unrolling as the players head to the ballpark.
Those are just a couple of the countless details culminating from nearly two years of planning for the highest profile event to hit the Twin Cities since John McCain, Sarah Palin and a bunch of anarchists came to town for the 2008 Republican National Convention. Event planners say it’s a critical prelude to the 2018 Super Bowl.
“We do big events all the time, but this one’s a little special and unique,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said. “It’s a huge opportunity to showcase to the rest of the world how great we are.”
And just how cool we are — literally. Forecasters say temperatures will dip into the 60s for Tuesday’s game. But 2014’s frequent and historic rainfalls aren’t expected to dampen or postpone the festivities.
No longer simply a nine-inning exhibition, the All-Star Game has mushroomed into a massive baseball convention, TV production, fan frenzy and corporate hoedown. There’s a Nike-sponsored 5K at the State Fairgrounds for 25,000 runners Sunday morning, then one of ESPN’s top-rated summer programs: the Home Run Derby on Monday Night. Throw in a showcase of minor-league phenoms Sunday, a 400,000-square-foot FanFest at the Convention Center and Monday night’s invitation-only gala for 5,000 along the Mississippi River near the Mill City Museum, among other soirees.
“Usually my beverage manager is ordering cases of things, but this week it’s pallets,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, D’Amico Catering’s top event planner.
A green line has been spray-painted on sidewalks from the Convention Center to Target Field, where head groundskeeper Larry DiVito has been sleeping on a cot in his office behind the center-field wall in case he needs to do some midnight fertilizing. He has a 10-page MLB agenda and has had to adjust mowing heights to make room for a new All-Star logo.
Those six blocks of red carpet, meanwhile, will be unrolled on Nicollet Mall for Tuesday’s 1 p.m. parade to the ballpark for baseball’s finest from their Hyatt Regency Hotel, where a few rooms were still available recently — at $360 a night.
Economic benefits squishy
Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention boosters, forecasts a $75 million boost from spending by the 160,000 visitors — but it offers no breakdown of those gaudy numbers. Kristen Montag, the group’s spokeswoman, said Major League Baseball has booked 14,000 hotel rooms, not counting regular fans showing up.
“All those people have to eat and they’ll rent cars, purchase souvenirs and leave a chunk of their wallets here,” said Kevin Smith, a Twins executive supervising the broadcasting arm of the event.
The last time the All-Stars came to the Midwest — Kansas City in 2012 — officials reported a $58 million windfall. Nearly half that money was spent on tickets.
Unlike Super Bowls, where the bulk of the crowd comes from elsewhere, two-thirds of the 40,000 fans at Tuesday’s game will be from the area, Smith said. Twins season-ticket holders were offered first crack at tickets to all the events. Seats to the game are going for an average of $675 in the secondary market on StubHub.com and other sites, with the best seats hitting $1,500 and standing room going for about $275.
“It costs a lot of money to put this thing on, and ticket prices basically pay for the production of the All-Star Game,” Smith said.
He said the Twins hope to break even, funneling more than $600,000 back to Minneapolis coffers in entertainment taxes and leaving $8 million behind in charitable giving.
Some experts question the robust predictions.
“The economic impact will be quite small to be honest,” said Mark Rosentraub, a sports management professor at the University of Michigan.
With one-third of the fans coming from out of town, he said, there will be a boost. But unlike the Super Bowl, which will come in the dead of winter when hotels and caterers in Minnesota are hibernating, the All-Star Game comes when many hotels and event planners would have been busy with weddings and summertime tourists anyway.
“You have to factor in the displacement effect,” Rosentraub said, pointing to a trend first researched when Disneyland saw a dip in visitors during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. “Someone who would have booked a wedding will shift their event out of town because they are afraid of the high rates.”
He said housekeepers and wait staff earn the same money whether baseball fans or wedding guests and tourists are in town. At the Hyatt, where the players are staying, the 645 rooms were filled in mid-July last year after an expansion, general manager Mark Becker said. But there’s an intangible benefit from the TV exposure.
“It’s not always about rooms being full,” Becker said. “The All-Star Game creates excitement and exposure for our destination and shows people across the country what Minneapolis has to offer — and it tees us up for the Super Bowl.”
The Downtown Council has joined forces with the University of Minnesota’s College of Design on sidewalk stenciling that will appear in front of Fortune 500 companies, award-winning restaurants and landmarks downtown.
“We have these occasional chances for a lot of people to come into town that might not otherwise be here,” Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer said. “We want to show off and entice people to come back or maybe down the road make an investment here.”
To that end, convention wooers will use a shared suite at the game Tuesday to attract convention clients. Melvin Tennant, CEO of Meet Minneapolis, said his sales staff will extend invitations to as many “hot prospects as possible” to join them at the game to get to know them.
Downtown Improvement District ambassadors will depart from their usual strict dress code, instead donning baseball caps from teams across the country. “That will be a fun way to engage people,” Cramer said.
High-tech and old school
Planners are using all kinds of high-tech wizardry this week. An MLB.com At-Bat app will track fans from hotels and, if they walk into the Rod Carew Atrium, for example, the former Twins star will appear on their phone to welcome them. Meet Minneapolis is staffing a “social media command center” to respond to visitors who tweet questions to #askMPLS.
But Minneapolis police Sgt. Molly Fischer is going old school. She’ll patrol the streets outside the game on her horse, Onyx. Some bars that paid $250 can stay open until 4 a.m., Wednesday, and she expects “a little more excitement than normal at bar closing.”
Enter Onyx. “By their sheer essence, horses have a unique ability to connect police and the community,” she said.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said her goal is to have hundreds of officers out “but not a lot of squad cars,” using horses, undercover officers and cops on bicycles to quell any disturbances.
Planners hope the stadium’s location near the new expanded light-rail service from St. Paul, plus added service from the Northstar commuter rail, will ease congestion. But several roads will be closed for All-Star events.
Compared with the Republican Convention, though, when anarchists poured in, this should be a breeze for law enforcement.
“We checked all the same traplines, and there really is no threat to this gathering,” said John Harrington, the former St. Paul police chief who now runs the Metro Transit police. “This is a feel-good event.”
Staff writers Rochelle Olson and Amelia Rayno contributed to this report.