The vice president of the Minneapolis City Council is raising new concerns about the close ties between the convention and visitors bureau and a massive sporting event that hasn’t paid a $300,000 bill to the city.
The local nonprofit — Golden Games Minnesota — coordinated the National Senior Games in the Twin Cities. It owes the Minneapolis Convention Center $303,834 — extremely rare for a large event.
But Golden Games is also partly a creation of the city’s taxpayer-funded tourism bureau, whose mission includes supporting the city-owned event facility.
City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden wrote a letter to the city’s tourism bureau, Meet Minneapolis, on Friday about her concerns over the perception of a conflict of interest because of shared board members and Meet Minneapolis’ connection to an entity that hasn’t paid the convention center.
“Clearly I’m concerned and we just have a responsibility to make sure we’re being engaged board members for an entity that is a nonprofit but receives the majority of its money from the public,” said Glidden, one of several city officials on the board of Meet Minneapolis. Golden Games Minnesota had difficulty raising the money it took to stage them.
The event’s leaders cited lackluster sponsorships and a lack of state aid, but said they are working to pay the Minneapolis bill, which came due Aug. 21. The city has not yet sent the bill to collections.
Golden Games was created with funding from Meet Minneapolis, as well as Bloomington and St. Paul’s convention and visitor bureaus, because a local organizing committee was a requirement for hosting the National Senior Games. Meet Minneapolis would not disclose the amount it paid, citing a trade secret provision in the state open records law. Golden Games was ultimately based in Meet Minneapolis’ downtown offices.
Its two volunteer co-chairs, Dave Mona and Susan Adams Loyd, are former and current board members of Meet Minneapolis, respectively. Mona is a longtime public relations executive and Loyd is president of Clear Channel Outdoor’s Twin Cities division.
The Golden Games board included Melvin Tennant, CEO of Meet Minneapolis, Bonnie Carlson, CEO of the Bloomington Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as business leaders and executives from every local pro-sports team.
The dilemma illustrates the tricky role local governments play in hosting conventions that boost the local economy and bring in significant sales tax revenue but are often made possible through complex incentive deals. Minneapolis spent $7.6 million subsidizing the operations of its convention center in 2013.
About 80 percent of Meet Minneapolis’ budget is funded through city sales taxes — $9.4 million in 2015. Tennant, who is not a city employee, makes more than anyone at City Hall, earning a base salary of $200,317 plus a $19,448 bonus in 2013, according to tax filings.
Glidden told Tennant in an e-mail Friday that she was concerned about Golden Games’ nonpayment, given Meet Minneapolis’ contract with the city to help bring revenue to the event center. She also expressed skepticism about Meet Minneapolis’ contribution to an entity that shares its board members.
“I’m concerned that while there may not be a financial conflict of interest, this action gives the perception of conflict of interest and favoritism to particular events, even if they do not have strong finance plans,” Glidden wrote. “I’d like to know what policies Meet Minneapolis has in place to address these issues of perception of conflict of interest.”
In lengthy e-mail responses to the Star Tribune, Meet Minneapolis spokeswoman Kristen Montag stressed that the decision to contribute funds toward Golden Games was made by staff, not the board, and the co-chairs were selected well after that contribution had been made. The event qualified for support, Montag said, because of its economic impact and the hotel nights it brought to the area.
“As far as we know, the Golden Games is the only one which has board/former board members as chairs of the group,” Montag wrote. She added that Meet Minneapolis board members are chosen for their ties to the community, corporations and interest in attracting conventions and travelers to the Twin Cities.
“Conventions and events bring millions of people and dollars to the city that may not otherwise have come here, and ultimately support the livelihood of 31,000 Minneapolis hospitality workers,” Tennant said in a statement.
“While it is unfortunate that the local Golden Games Minnesota organization was unable to raise the funds they expected before the event, we are confident that they will indeed complete all payments due,” he added. “Our colleagues who are responsible for the effort are working hard to ensure that.”
Bonnie Carlson, of Bloomington’s bureau, did not return requests for comment Friday.
Minneapolis isn’t the only entity waiting to be paid. Golden Games Minnesota owes St. Paul about $9,820, largely for use of the Highland Golf Course, according to St. Paul parks spokesman Brad Meyer. Those invoices are not yet late, however.
“Big events like this take a while to reconcile,” said Loyd, one of the Golden Games co-chairs. “We’re still getting money in and we’re still getting invoices in.”
The National Senior Games Association is based in Baton Rouge, La. Its CEO, Marc Riker, has said that paying local vendors and venues is the responsibility of the local committee.