City tourism officials are gearing up for a perfect storm of high-profile events coming to town, anchored by baseball’s All-Star Game in July. Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention and tourism bureau, already anticipates that total cumulative event attendance will exceed 685,000 — and some events have yet to be booked. That would be more than any year dating back to at least 2000.
“I hope it’s the first of many banner years for downtown,” said City Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents half of downtown. She added that people are more interested in conventions postrecession: “We had a really great product to sell and were able to rebound fast.”
The past year showed that the convention business is on the upswing. Jeff Johnson, executive director of the Minneapolis Convention Center, estimated that the center’s 2013 revenues reached an all-time high of $16.2 million, reducing the city’s annual operating subsidy to about $8 million. That subsidy is 32 percent less than a recent peak of $11.8 million in 2010.
Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant also said the city’s hotels reached 70 percent occupancy in 2013 — a key benchmark in the industry — for the first time since 2007.
Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game will bring in visitors for many ancillary events in addition to the game itself, such as a fan fest at the Convention Center. Tennant said 160,000 are expected to flock to the city for the four or five days around the game. The city hasn’t hosted the All-Star Game since 1985. Recent All-Star Game host cities include New York; Kansas City, Mo.; Phoenix, and Anaheim, Calif.
“What that does is draw attention to the city, where not only the national stage but the international stage will be right here in our city,” Tennant said.
The All-Star Game also “gives us the credentials” to pursue other high-profile national events such as a Super Bowl, an NCAA Final Four or a college football championship, he added.
Other 2014 highlights include the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships in late June, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference championship in March and the annual Shriners International Imperial Session in July. Shriners is a national fraternal organization associated with Freemasonry, whose members are known to sport red fezzes.
Of particular importance for Tennant is bringing the Meeting Planners International World Education Congress to Minneapolis this year. He said that event — which his team attends annually — will be a key opportunity to sell the city to people who help plan conventions.
“If we expose leisure or convention visitors to the city, if we show them the level of hospitality that we plan to, then they’ll want to come back on their own,” Tennant said. “I think people are so surprised when they get here.”
Much of Meet Minneapolis’ budget is funded by city sales taxes, to the tune of about $9.5 million in 2014. The City Council allocated extra funds for the organization in anticipation of a busy year, which will help market to visitors while they are here.
The total economic impact of 2014’s events is projected to be about $395 million, according to Meet Minneapolis. That accounts for spending on everything from restaurants to hotels to transportation.