Final Four visitor’s guide misses diversity mark

Photos by Charles Hallman Sammy’s Avenue Eatery on West Broadway in North Minneapolis

An estimated 100,000 visitors and four remaining college basketball teams are expected to arrive this week for the Final Four in downtown Minneapolis.

But, Tuesday’s North Commons court rededication was “really one of the first activities of Final Four week,” said Minneapolis Local Operating Committee (MLOC) President Kate Mortensen.

This is a clear departure from previous Final Fours hosted in Minnesota (1992, 1995, 2001), as it concerns engaging the Black community with such large scale events. “We launched our (Final Four) logo at North Commons,” Mortensen noted. “We got involved in the community so many times with the Fan Jam, and doing our Legacy Project at North Commons.”

However, after the North Commons rededication, the bulk of the Final Four scheduled events will be held at near the Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis this weekend.

This includes the Final Four Friday (team practices and a college all-star game at the Vikings stadium); the March Madness Music Series (at The Armory); and the Tip-off Tailgate on Nicollet Mall — all free to the public. There’s also the Final Four Fan Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center from Fri., April 5 to Mon., April 8, which is not free but open to the public.

“We really hope the community hear our invitation and come to these Final Four events,” said Mortensen.

However, when this columnist covers an out-of-town sporting event, we usually check with arena folk — local Black workers — for suggestions on nearby Black-owned places to patronize. Such businesses typically aren’t promoted in visitors’ guides. The same can be said for the Final Four.

“They don’t include us [Black-owned businesses] on things like that,” said Destiny Brooks of Mama D’s restaurant in South Minneapolis.
“They don’t know about us,” echoed Sammy McDowell, who owns and operates Sammy’s Avenue Eatery on West Broadway in North Minneapolis. “It would’ve been great if they [the MLOC and other big event organizers] included the local restaurants.”

The MLOC estimates that at least $142 million in spending will be generated from the Final Four this week. But unless visitors, especially those of color, are adventurous to seek out non-downtown places — the lion’s share of the economic spending will once again be centered in the downtown area.

(l-r) Sammy McDowell, Michael McDowell
Photos by Charles Hallman

Getting around town

Last year’s Super Bowl proved a headache for many of us locals with all the downtown security checkpoints that resembled border crossings. This time around, city officials assured us that this won’t be the case.
“This is going to be different than the Super Bowl,” Metro Transit Howie Padilla said of the Final Four. “It isn’t as high a security event. You will have more access to the event.”

“This event and downtown is open for everyone,” City of Minneapolis Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson added.

This doesn’t mean some nerve-racking disruptive moments won’t exist, especially if you’re not interested in the Final Four. “There will be a couple of closures . . . and we’ll have detours set up,” explained Hutcheson. “We’re confident that people will be able to get in and around downtown, and everybody will be able to get where they need to go.”

“We haven’t forgotten our daily riders,” added Padilla. “We will have regular service. All stations up and down the Green Line and the Blue Line will be open and all our bus routes as well.”

Updated 4/3/2019