Final Four on its way to Minneapolis

The NCAA picked the city to host the 2019 men’s basketball championship tournament.

Jessie Bekker

Minneapolis basketball lovers celebrated on Friday night, as the under-construction Vikings stadium was announced as the venue for the 2019 NCAA tournament’s Final Four.

The city defeated competitors such as St. Louis, New Orleans and Atlanta for the chance to host its first Final Four since 2001.

David Mortenson, president of the company building the stadium, said at a press conference that the successful bid came after a yearlong period of “a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication.”

Mortenson cited Minneapolis’ urban environment and a caring and determined Minnesota community as two components that helped make for a successful bid.

But he admitted the presence of the new stadium made the difference.

“Without this new stadium, we would not have been able to compete,” Mortenson said.

Other important factors in snagging the Final Four included state and city support, as well as the promise for a park next to the stadium to allow for pedestrian traffic flow, said steering committee spokeswoman and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen at the press conference.

“The park is a key element to our bid,” she said. “We need to have the infrastructure similar to what we did for [the] Super Bowl to get people in early before the game so there’s kind of a gathering place.”

Kelm-Helgen said she’s happy another high-profile event will come to the new stadium after the 2018 Super Bowl.

In anticipation of the Final Four, the city will also host 2018 NCAA regional games.

“It’s what the Legislature and the governor planned on when they invested in this venue, was to bring a lot of economic opportunity to this state,” she said.

Estimates for the Final Four’s economic benefits range from $70 million to $200 million, though the MLB All-Star Game at Target Field brought in much less money than expected.

But Mortenson said benefits of large sporting events go beyond just money.

“Whether it’s $50 million or $70 million or $100 million, it’s still tens of millions better than if it’s not here,” he said. “What this does in terms of promoting the region across the country and across the world probably has a bigger impact.”

The Final Four will expand beyond the court to include community-wide offerings like activities for children and families and a music festival at an outdoor venue near the Mall of America, said Mary Brainerd, president and CEO of HealthPartners, at the press conference.

Basketball practices will be open to the general public for viewing before the tournament as well, University of Minnesota athletics director Norwood Teague said at the press conference.

Lindsay Whalen, who led the Gophers women’s basketball team to the 2004 Final Four, touched on the event’s impact on Minnesota’s youth.

“I think for all the kids in Minnesota to have a Final Four here, to be able to have that be tangible is very cool,” she said at the press conference.

The committee is excited to host the event come 2019, with each member saying they have bright prospects for the event.

“I knew we were in a good position. I think everybody in the Twin Cities should pat themselves on the back because this is a great honor on our Twin Cities and also the state of Minnesota,” Teague said. “2019 will get here a whole lot quicker than we realize.”