A year after the National Senior Games arrived in Minnesota, many small businesses and the city of Minneapolis have yet to be paid in full for their services — and it’s possible they never will be.
The local organizing committee for the event still owes about $470,000 to about 20 different companies, its co-chairman said, despite assurances from Minneapolis’ tourism bureau last fall that the debts would be repaid. The largest bill is owed to Minneapolis for use of the city’s Convention Center.
“We are essentially out of money. We’ve collected everything that we could,” said Dave Mona, the co-chairman of Golden Games Minnesota. “Our last bet was the Legislature, and we’ve been waiting to find out if we’d be successful in getting anything there. Short of that, we’re out of money.”
The situation has left at least two local vendors wondering about the much-hyped economic impact of major sporting events.
“When they say it brings in $30 million in revenue, then why aren’t the vendors being paid?” said Bruce Evans, whose two-person marketing firm in Minneapolis is still owed about $7,700.
Senior Games organizers had been banking on a legislative appropriation before the event, but it fell through. Then a key sponsor dropped out at the last minute. Mona has said fundraising was difficult partly due to competing campaigns for other major events like the 2018 Super Bowl.
The group has paid a sliver of what it owes to the city since the fall, when Mona said it was still raising money and collecting hotel rebates. The remaining $273,834 balance is the largest unpaid bill the Convention Center has ever had, said city spokesman Casper Hill.
One vendor awaiting payment is Eden Prairie-based Event Lab, which coordinated the Celebration of Athletes event at CHS Field in St. Paul and helped with another event. The company has received $2,500 of its $15,000 invoice.
“It’s disappointing,” said Jack Noble, president of the company, which employs 18 people. It’s the first unpaid bill for an event in his 10-year tenure. “We do well, we’re well-known, we do a great job. But a $12,500 loss is significant for me. So I still do hope that somebody can do something.”
Hubbell/Tyner, a New Brighton-based firm specializing in conventions and trade shows, has had to write off the approximately $24,000 it’s owed as bad debt — though it is still trying to collect. The company provided tables, chairs, drapes and other furnishings for the games.
“I think the biggest thing for other cities that contract with these folks, they really need to get their money up front,” said the company’s president, Dwayne Hendricks.
The next National Senior Games is scheduled to be held in Birmingham, Ala., in 2017. The National Senior Games Association, based in Louisiana, is independent of the local organizing committees that make arrangements with local venues and vendors.
The unpaid bills in Minnesota are particularly unusual because the local committee has ties to the city’s taxpayer-supported tourism bureau, Meet Minneapolis, whose mission includes bringing revenue to the Convention Center. Meet Minneapolis joined with St. Paul’s and Bloomington’s bureaus to fund the creation of Golden Games Minnesota, based in Meet Minneapolis’ downtown offices.
Still seeking money
Melvin Tennant, the CEO of Meet Minneapolis and a board member of Golden Games Minnesota, said in September that “we are confident that they will indeed complete all payments due.”
In a statement on Thursday, Tennant noted that the Convention Center had a record year for revenue and that the games attracted 10,000 participants.
“It is disappointing the local organizing committee was not able to meet its fundraising goals as anticipated,” Tennant said. “It is especially concerning that the organization has not paid the Minneapolis Convention Center in full, as well as other vendors.”
If the city does not get a payment in July, city spokesman Hill said the debt would be sent to the city’s Finance department for collections.
Mona said his group is still hoping that the Legislature may be able to plug the gap, possibly in a special session, because Senior Games elsewhere have had public aid. Texas contributed $2.1 million to the games, he said, and governments in Ohio paid $1.5 million.
Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman said it is disappointing that the committee is now looking to the Legislature to fix the problem. “It’s bad enough when these conventions skip out on their financial responsibilities to the city,” Goodman said. “It’s worse when small businesses in the city get shafted.”