Local businesses expect extra dollars from fans

Three upcoming NCAA tournaments bring hopes of increased traffic.

Tiff Clements

Stefanie Osterowski will be busy in the coming weekends.

The Applebee’s server and University graduate expects to see a boom in business at the restaurant within the Radisson Hotel as NCAA teams and fans flood campus.

“The majority of teams stay in the hotel,” she said. “So we’re busy breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Thursday marked the first round of women’s NCAA swimming and diving championships and the first of three national tournaments to come to campus in the next two weeks. Men’s swimming and diving will be on campus March 15 to 17, followed by the first and second rounds of women’s basketball March 17 to 19.

Visiting fans, coaches and players bring more than school spirit to the University: They bring welcomed dollars to local businesses.

Stadium Village Commercial Association President Jim Rosvold said annual high school, regional and national tournaments have a big impact on campus businesses.

“They say that St. Paul is tournament town,” he said. “But really Stadium Village is tournament village.”

Rosvold, who is also the general manager of Campus Pizza & Pasta, said quantifying the impact of championship dollars is difficult, but estimated a 20 percent increase in profits during tournament season.

Rosvold said in the 17 years he’s worked near campus, he’s learned national tournament crowds can take some time to find local flavor.

“The national people have their safety nets, their franchises,” he said. “You see a little less traffic those first couple days but then the word of mouth picks up it tends to be crazy by the time the tournament is over.”

Rosvold said he plans to have a few extra employees on hand and placed some larger than usual ingredient orders to meet the needs of hungry players, coaches and fans.

Days Inn General Manager Debi Grant-Smith said the hotel is completely booked for the next two weekends and will staff extra shuttle drivers and breakfast staff to accommodate swimmers and their fans.

She said the hotel welcomes the annual tournament crowds for high school, regional and national events because typical weekend reservations for the months of January and February only fill 50 to 75 percent of rooms.

“March turns out to be a great month, which after a horrible winter is always a really nice change of pace,” Grant-Smith said.

Tony Vescio, manager of Vescio’s Italian Restaurant, said he looks forward to seeing a mix of familiar and new faces.

“I enjoy having the teams come in,” he said. “You have different teams from different states sitting right next to each other and they’re going to be playing against each other tomorrow.”

While some local businesses are making plans and holding tables for athletes and fans, general manager at Blarney Irish Pub Adam Lanoue said he’s not expecting extra business from tournament crowds.

“We’re a bit out of the range of that activity,” he said. “We don’t expect much of an increase from it.”

Ron Lynch, athletics ticket manager for women’s basketball, said fans had purchased 1,700 all-session tickets as of early this week. He said he expects to see ticket sales go up once teams are announced March 12.

“We’ll probably end up selling 4,000 to 5,000 tickets, depending upon which eight teams get sent here,” Lynch said.

Williams Arena has hosted portions of the NCAA tournament for three of the last four seasons. Lynch said ticket sales are behind what they had been in previous years because of uncertainty surrounding the University’s placement.

“The previous two times we were a lock to be in the tournament,” he said. “Right now we don’t know if we’ll be in Ö so that has cut down some of the sales.”

Athletics ticket manager for swimming Mike Chandler anticipates crowds for both men’s and women’s swimming events to sell out. As of early this week, the ticket office had sold nearly 775 all-session passes and 350 single-event tickets to the women’s championships and 860 all-session passes and 200 single-event tickets to the men’s championships. The University Aquatic Center has a seating capacity of nearly 2,600.

Chandler said the athletics department makes no financial profit for putting on national tournaments.

“We are repaid our expenses,” he said. “The benefit is for the team to be home and to the University at large to host tournaments. It’s part of being a big-time university.”