All Roads Lead To the Dome

Minnesota has attracted an extraordinary number of major sports events in the past year - not the least of them this weekend's Super Bowl

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

TWO and a half feet of snow and record cold has already blasted Minnesota this winter. Even so, Minnesota is hot.

Hot, that is, in the sporting world.

Not only did the Minnesota Twins become the first baseball team in history to go from a last-place finish to world champions in only one year, but just about the time winter snows will be melting this spring in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Twin Cities will have hosted an impressive series of events: the 1990 Stanley Cup playoffs, the 1990 US Open, the International Special Olympics (ISO), the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the 1992 college basketball championships.

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"There has never been a community before and not likely ever will be again that will host all these major events in a 12-month period," says John Fisher, president of the St. Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Minnesota began competing for national and international sporting events to bolster the state's tourism business, annually a $5-billion industry. The state's economy has not been hit as hard by the current recession as some other parts of the country, and the infusion of tourism through world-class sporting events has certainly helped matters.

"The Super Bowl was the original mega-event that we set up to get," says Dave Mona, a local sports-marketing executive and member of the Super Bowl and Final Four task forces.

"By virtue of when it's held, the Super Bowl was seen as an opportunity to provide an injection of a lot of capital into the tourism economy at absolutely the slowest time of the year."

Former Gov. Rudy Perpich's decision in 1987 to build world-class athletic facilities for all Olympic sports has continued to pay dividends. The state spent $40 million for facilities in cross-country skiing, hockey, swimming, kayaking; the largest soccer complex in the world, with 32 soccer fields; and the only wooden Olympic velodrome in North America for bicycling.

DD the Metrodome and a new convention center the size of 12 football fields, and local sports and convention people felt they had a good foundation to attract big events.

"You need all the components to be successful," explains Jenni Lilledahl, of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC), a state agency that promotes and oversees sporting activities. "Corporations, civic, and city groups are all vital to a successful event."

Hosting the US Open and the ISO resulted from the efforts of private groups. And no one expected the local professional hockey and baseball teams to bring the world championship series to the state.

"It's undeniable that when you start getting these events, you get more," says Mr. Mona. "There is a sort of domino effect." On the other hand, Minnesota's success may have eliminated it from consideration as the site of the 1998 Goodwill Games in favor of a venue that might see the games as more special.

Super Bowl XXVI and the NCAA Final Four will have a combined economic impact well in excess of $200 million, say press reports. No one can say how lasting an impact such events will have, though.

Dick Todd, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, suggested the long-term impact will be modest."It's the kind of thing where you would expect to slowly accumulate [a payback] over 15 or 20 years."

Minnesota has responded enthusiastically, setting a record for Super Bowl volunteers, according to an NFL spokesman. "It's fair to say that there are at least 5,000 volunteers behind the Super Bowl effort," says Paula Gottschalk, executive director of the Minnesota Super Bowl Task Force. "We not only have people greeting visitors arriving at the airport, we will have volunteers seeing visitors off at the airport to thank them for coming.

"We basically devised two Super Bowl weeks," she explains, "one for people who want to experience the outdoors in winter, and another for people who [hate] the idea of any temperature under 60 degrees."

The Super Bowl will be played with St. Paul's annual winter carnival as a backdrop and the freshly erected ice castle - "the world's largest," notes St. Paul's Fisher.

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