Minneapolis jumps through hoops in bid for Final Four

With its bid submitted to host an NCAA Final Four, Minneapolis is moving to make the end of this decade resemble the early 1990s.

Fresh from the victory of securing the 2018 Super Bowl, community leaders have pitched the future Vikings stadium to be the site of the 2018, 2019 or 2020 Final Four.

The NCAA will announce in November the next set of host cities, and if Minneapolis wins again it will be reminiscent of 1991 and 1992 when the Twin Cities captured the Stanley Cup Final, U.S. Open golf championship, World Series, Super Bowl and Final Four in a 12-month span.

Flanked by current and former hoops stars and honorary co-chairs of the bid Lindsay Whalen and Trent Tucker, Gov. Mark Dayton described Tuesday the hopes to bring the NCAA’s basketball championship weekend to the stadium currently under construction and scheduled to open for the Vikings in 2016.

Hosting a Final Four “would bring tens of thousands of visitors to Minnesota and put our state center stage during one of the most-watched sporting events of the year,” Dayton said. “We plan to pursue this opportunity — and the economic benefits that come with it — with the same enthusiasm and creativity that secured the 2018 Super Bowl.”

The Final Four, held at the Metrodome in 1992 and 2001, is expected to bring a community an economic boost ranging from $70-200 million. Seven other cities are in the running to host the event between 2017 and 2020: Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, North Texas, Phoenix/Glendale, San Antonio and St. Louis. With construction and the Super Bowl on the schedule, the expected earliest year Minneapolis could win would be 2018. Just as with the Super Bowl LII bid, the soaring glass venue is the centerpiece of the pitch.

“We would not be submitting this application if we didn’t have this brand new, state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind facility,” said David Mortenson, president of stadium builder Mortenson Construction, who co-chairs the Minnesota Final Four Steering Committee along with HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd.

The Final Four bid, which Dayton said will not involve taxpayer money, was submitted on May 9, and the NCAA named Minneapolis in January as one of eight finalists. Mortenson and Brainerd will lead a site visit with NCAA officials in August, followed by a decision in early November. “I had nothing to do with the timeline,” Dayton joked. “But if we get it I hope it’s before the election.”

The University of Minnesota has been involved in the bid from the early stages, executive associate athletic director Mike Ellis said, and would act as the host. Such national events bring the type of exposure that can’t be gained anywhere else, Ellis said.

“You can’t buy that type of advertising,” he said Tuesday during a U event in Redwood Falls. “To be able to focus on the Twin Cities for a four or five-day period like that would just provide us an enormous benefit to [men’s basketball coach] Richard Pitino and [women’s basketball coach] Marlene Stollings and to all of our programs.”

The event would be years away, but Pitino — working to build a program that will attract elite players — sees an opportunity to showcase the area, as he does in recruiting.

“One thing that nobody realizes nationally is how great of a place we have here,” he said. “Our biggest thing is, let’s get people here. And I think when we get people here, they love it.”

And a Final Four brings plenty of people. Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority, said that the venue will be reconfigured for the early April semifinal and championship games to seat 70,000. Several thousand more fans and media also attend.

The NCAA has a Final Four city host an NCAA tournament regional championship weekend ­— Sweet 16 and Elite 8-round games — the year before, as a “preliminary round” Kelm-Helgen said. That could mean the new stadium hosts a Super Bowl in February 2018, a regional championship one, 13 or 25 months after that and a Final Four a year later.

In 1991, the sports world turned to the Twin Cities so often, a New York Times writer referred to the area as “the sports capital of the United States.” Similar momentum has returned, and Minneapolis might not be finished. Kelm-Helgen said another coveted event, a major college football bowl game, is a possibility for the new stadium.


Star Tribune staff writers Mike Kaszuba and Amelia Rayno contributed to this report.

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