Final Four kickoff event a first for North Minneapolis

Charles Hallman/MSR News (l-r) Ivan Cardona, Bernard Muir and Kate Mortensen \\ Photos by Charles Hallman

NCAA’s North Commons renovation now underway

The 2019 Men’s Final Four is now less than three months away. Perhaps for the first time ever, the kickoff for the scheduled ancillary events and the crowning of a national champion will be held on the city’s North Side with the dedication of a newly renovated North Commons recreational facility.

When we first met Kate Mortensen shortly after she was named Minneapolis Final Four Local Organizing Committee (MLOC) president and CEO, she assured us that the community indeed would be involved in the event, something we told her had been elusive in previous Final Fours hosted in Minneapolis. Mortensen reaffirmed in subsequent meetings her committee’s commitment to inclusiveness.

Last week at North Commons Recreation Center — in the heart of the North Side — Mortensen, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, and other officials unveiled the slate of scheduled Final Four events mostly set in the downtown area beginning April 5. It will also include the Final Four Legacy Project at North Commons.

“The actual leadoff event of Final Four week is when we return here at North Commons Park and we cut the ribbon on the refurbishment,” Mortensen told the MSR after the 30-minute festivities last Wednesday in the center gym.

North Commons was chosen by the NCAA for the annual Legacy Project, a $250,000 investment for upgrades and improvements. “From the time we unveiled our logo for the Final Four weekend [at North Commons in December 2017], we have been so pleased to share the youth of this community with the larger world,” Mortensen said of the Northside park. “It means a lot to us.”

Mayor Frey calls the century-plus-old North Commons “an extraordinary community asset.”

Stanford University Athletic Director Bernard Muir told us, “The [Legacy] Project is designed to give back to the local community in the host city. But the hope is it has a lifelong impact well beyond the Final Four weekend.”

Muir is the chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee that chooses and seeds the 68 teams in March. He and other NCAA officials were at the park two years ago and were impressed with its legacy and community significance.

“I’m really excited for the young people to be able to see the transformation,” said North Commons Center Director Yvette Griffea-Gray. “I think it’s a big deal that something on this large a scale could happen here.”

The new makeover, in a fashion, finally realizes a wish of one of the center’s young regulars. Griffea-Gray recalled, “When I first started working here, a young man said, ‘Miss Yvette, we want our logo on the floor.’ Now, two years later, he’s seeing that he got heard.”

That youngster, his fellow participants, and the community will not only see a new North Commons logo, but a new floor along with new backboards and rims, locker rooms and meeting rooms upgrades, a new internet public address system, LED lighting, fresh paint and a new mural created by Juxtaposition Arts, the nonprofit visual art center for youth.

“We are going to completely renovate” North Commons, Muir said.

“This community deserves it,” Project Manager Ivan Cardona stressed. Northside-based Tri-Construction is the primary contractor, and “anywhere between 30 and 40 people [will] make this happen. Cardona reported on the construction that began last week, “We have 66 days to get the job done.”

Minneapolis Park Board District 2 Commissioner Kale Severson said, “I believe our community deserves the best facilities, the best equipment, the best coaches, and the best staff. My hope is that the NCAA and this Legacy Project is going to help provide that for our community.”

Finally, perhaps for the first time in city history, a national sporting event will kick off in North Minneapolis. “We are ready,” Mortensen said of the preparations.