As the Final Four teams took their first practice shots from the court at the center of U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday, downtown workers and businesses prepared their own game plans for the next four days when college basketball’s biggest tournament is in town.
Players and workers both say they’re making adjustments. The players will be on an elevated court at the center of a $1.1 billion stadium built for football. Downtown business owners and workers will navigate their jobs and commutes amid an anticipated arrival of nearly 100,000 visitors from out of town.
Pacing outside his Emconada food truck less than three blocks from the stadium on S. 4th Street, Orlando Villegas said he’s getting away. “It’s just going to be too hectic. I’ll spend time with my family,” he said. “When I started, I’d grab anything. Now it’s too much work.”
Villegas said the event already encroached on his action because he usually parks next to the Commons park, between Park and Portland avenues. He was pushed a block west. As lunch hour wound down, Minneapolis police pulled up and draped red “no parking” hoods over the meters where Villegas and one other truck, Taqueria El Victor, were parked.
On Friday, Villegas said he’ll try to park near a construction site a couple of blocks south to feed the 1,600 workers on duty there.
Taqueria El Victor owner Victor Herrera and his colleague Nadia Rosales are doing the opposite: They secured a spot near the Tip-Off Tailgate on Nicollet Mall by paying $1,500 and agreeing to share a portion of their profits with the contracted vendor in charge.
The two were upbeat, saying they believe it will pay off.
Meanwhile, the thousands of workers in the Wells Fargo buildings, Armory and construction sites nearby made plans to adjust to changed hours at parking ramps and closed streets.
Shon Jarmon, who will be working from 3 p.m. to midnight as a cook at the Armory for the next three nights, was checking with a ramp attendant about the rates at the Jerry Haaf Memorial Ramp. A sign was posted indicating jacked-up event rate pricing for certain hours for those without monthly contracts. Jarmon has experience. “I didn’t do this last time and 40 bucks is not a good surprise at the end of the night,” he said, referring to the parking tab.
At the Armory, attendants warned arriving commuters that contract parkers on Friday will have a deadline: They need to be out by 6 p.m.
Paula Delaney said her eastern downtown employer gave her the option of telecommuting from her home in south Minneapolis, but she’s coming in on her usual bus Friday and staying home Monday. “One of the reasons I want to come in is I want to see what’s on Nicollet Mall,” she said, referencing the Ferris wheel and stage under construction for the Tip-Off Tailgate party. “It’s fun to see.”
Marc Warnest works for Wells Fargo but said his sensitive work is done on a secure floor and can’t be done from home. He expects to ride his bike in, like most other days. “The Super Bowl was a good warmup for this,” he said, adding that he took light-rail during that 10-day event.
Unlike the Super Bowl, buses and trains all will run on regular schedules, and the U.S. Bank Stadium station remains open. Also, fewer streets are closed. Warnest said his bike route remains open.
On Friday, U.S. Bank Stadium will allow fans to enter free beginning at 10 a.m. to watch all four teams in open shootarounds throughout the day. Organizers have said they expect between 20,000 and 30,000 spectators. The two semifinal games will be played Saturday, with the national title game Monday night.
Most government operations appear to be on normal schedules.
New probation officer Kim Hayden said staff were given the option of working from home, but she can’t. “I have to be there to get trained,” she said, adding that she’s reviewed bus schedules to coordinate the day-care drop-off and her commute. She won’t be coming back, though. “I’m not really interested in basketball. I’m more into roller derby.”
Sentiment was similarly mixed down on Nicollet Mall as everyone awaited the deluge.
John Gates, who works in the U.S. Bancorp Building on Nicollet and was smoking a cigarette outside his building, called the closure a nuisance.
“It’s just not convenient. There are no buses. I have to go up to Hennepin,” he said.
At the Bogart’s Doughnut Co. stand in the Crystal Court of the IDS Center, Allison Carroll said she’s excited about the CBS Sports studio about 20 feet away. “We’re expecting to triple and quadruple what we usually see,” she said.
Throughout the day inside the stadium, Auburn, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Virginia coaches and players roamed the service tunnel underneath the building.
During their open locker room media session, Michigan State players said the court held some surprises — notably the baskets appear lower than they are — because the background differs from their regular courts. “Your first couple of shots are off by a lot,” Michigan State freshman Thomas Kithier said.
With 72,000 fans staring down on Saturday, “it might be intimidating,” Kithier said. “But once you run up and down the court a couple times, it’s just basketball.”
And Texas Tech sophomore Davide Moretti said the amped-up atmosphere is new for everyone. “It’s not just for us — it’s for everybody.”