Minneapolis is on a mission to change minds.
As the center of the nation’s 13th-largest metropolitan economy, second only to Chicago’s in the Midwest, Minneapolis outperforms many cities of a similar size (such as Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis and St. Louis) as a tourist city, thanks in large part to the Mall of America in Bloomington. Beyond MOA, Minneapolis alone has a hard time attracting new visitors for its perception of being too cold and remote. When it comes to meetings and events, the city is a niche destination—well liked by planners who are familiar with it, but rated average by those who haven’t done business here.
To combat the misperception and reach its full potential as a destination, the city is taking a strategic approach to raise awareness of its unique attractions and appeal to “diverse millennials” (and hopeful future ambassadors).
Sure, it’s the home of the Pillsbury Doughboy, Bob Dylan and Prince (OK, maybe not in that exact order), but it’s also a city that’s managed to reinvent itself in many ways, while learning to celebrate the things that set it apart.
WHY NOT VISIT IN FEBRUARY?
There are four seasons here, and one has the tendency to keep people away for its extreme temperatures. Lean into it, says a new generation of boosters who are rallying around the term “Bold North” and take pride in the city’s cold winters. During the recent Super Bowl LII festivities, Eric Dayton, Minneapolis entrepreneur, son of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and self-proclaimed “King of Cold,” was quoted in the Washington Post saying, “This is the winter capital of America. There’s no one that does the cold and the snow better than we do.”
Destination Transformation 2030 (DT2030), the city’s first tourism master plan created by Meet Minneapolis, the City of Minneapolis and other stakeholders, is striving to make Minneapolis and its surrounding communities a better place to visit, and to offer those visitors an authentic Minneapolis experience. Of the plan’s eight initiatives, “Accentuate winter as a novel tourism adventure” looks to change the narrative about winter. Rather than shut down for the season, Minneapolis hopes to increase its wintertime visitors from 6 million to 11 million by 2030 by developing infrastructure to support outdoor and indoor winter activities and creating an event that features outdoor active living.
“Any convention or conference destination needs to be a strong leisure destination, too,” say Melvin Tennant, CAE, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis and executive director of Sports Minneapolis. “We’ve been improving our ‘destination appeal’ over the years. The city made some positive changes to get ready for the Super Bowl [page 41], and now we will enjoy the fruits of that labor.”
Perhaps, as Tennant indicates, Super Bowl LII was just a warm up, because there are plenty of other major sporting events in the works. Minneapolis will be hosting the summer X Games this July 19-22, and the WNBA All-Star Game will be in town July 28. In 2019, the city will host the NCAA Men’s Final Four Final Four April 6-8.
A GROWING NEED FOR HOSPITALITY
The latest stats report 32.5 million annual visitors who spent $7.6 billion. Those dollars spread through the community, supporting the local economy and directly benefiting the 36,219 people who work in hospitality. Destination Transformation 2030 hopes to attract 50 million visitors to the metro area annually by 2030.
“Our DT2030 plan calls for significant growth in the number of visitors and the development of key infrastructure to enhance the overall visitor experience,” says Tennant. “It will take a dedicated and well-prepared hospitality and tourism workforce to bring these goals to life.”
One of the plan’s initiatives is to grow the number of hospitality jobs in the metro area from 36,219 in 2016 to 40,000 by 2030. Not just that, but the plan seeks to increase the cultural diversity of the hospitality labor force. The plan states: “It’s important to raise awareness that these jobs represent an important entry point into the workforce for thousands of disadvantaged residents and their families, and that these jobs can put people on a ladder to middle class, thus playing an important role in moving the metro region toward socioeconomic equity. That kind of progress isn’t important just for disadvantaged people but for the metro region as a whole. We are stronger competitors when our socioeconomic disparities are lessened, and when we can retain and attract the critically needed talent required to spur new investment and greater prosperity.”
Minneapolis is facing the future with an unprecedented amount of construction activity, which has come to be known as the Mpls Big Build. In each of the past six years, more than $1 billion worth of city construction permits were issued, and those projects include major plans for new facilities, green spaces and public amenities. In downtown, projects include a redesign of a key thoroughfare, a new stadium and adjoining green space and a renovation of Target Center, home of the Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves teams. Beyond downtown, there have been major renovations at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Walker Art Center, and the new Water Works park on the Mississippi riverfront is nearing completion. “We’re transforming in a big way to become an elite 21st-century city,” says Leah Wong, vice president of external relations at the mpls downtown council.
“Busy streets, active programming and forward-thinking development make for vibrant, thriving cities,” she says. “We’re working together on ensuring a vital downtown for all who live, work, play, visit and explore here, which keeps Minneapolis competitive with other markets. We’re proud to showcase our city’s core and the continued efforts our community is putting toward keeping it extraordinary.”
The project to renovate Nicollet, “Minneapolis’ Main Street,” was a central part of the mpls downtown council’s Downtown 2025 Plan. Construction and renovations cost $50 million and took a patience-wearing 28 months to complete (with utility work stretching through 2016 and renovations taking place through November 2017), but initial reviews are overwhelmingly positive. The 1-mile street is home to three Fortune 500 companies, hundreds of small businesses and thousands of workers. “We’re asking people to use the hashtag #OnNicollet as they enjoy the dining, drinking, art and activities there,” Wong says. She’s especially proud of all the newly installed artworks, which she describes as an “incredibly curated experience of public art.” As a complement to Nicollet’s completion, Wong says the adjacent Peavy Plaza renovation, including water features and a gathering area, is scheduled to be completed by early 2019.
Nicollet itself could be reserved for the right special event, Tennant says. “We’ve even held private parades there in the past.”
UPDATING THE HEART OF THE CITY
Transformations are happening all over the city, including on the banks of the Mississippi River. Water Works, a project of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, is described as “a transformative park development project” overlooking St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge. It’s a place “to tell important stories and a destination to make new memories,” its planners say. A year-round restaurant led by Native American Sioux chef, author and educator Sean Sherman, called Owamni: An Indigenous Kitchen, will be part of the project. The first phase, which includes the restaurant, is slated to be completed in 2019.
In the downtown space that was most recently occupied by Macy’s and historically by locally owned Dayton’s department store, there are plans for a $190 million office/retail/ restaurant space called The Dayton’s Project, scheduled to open summer 2019. Developers hope to get the complex listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This building is poised to once again to be the heart of Minneapolis,” says Cailin Rogers, consultant for public relations firm Tunheim. “It’s an iconic space that’s been etched in the minds of Minnesotans for generations, and the developers will bring that nostalgia back to life.” The importance of this space is seconded by Wong, who adds: “This is such an important and iconic corner for the city, and it will be great for visitors.”
The first three levels of the building are being created as public amenities. “The activation inside the building will lend itself to activation of the streetscape, offering a powerful attraction right on Nicollet,” Rogers says. “We view this project as a starting point in Minneapolis to explore the city.”
There’s been buzz around the first announced tenant, Dayton's Food Hall & Market. It’s being headed up by Andrew Zimmern, the four-time James Beard Award winner and creator/host of the Travel Channel's “Bizarre Food” series, in partnership with Robert J. Montwaid, who cofounded Gansevoort Market in New York. Plans are in the works for a 40,000-squarefoot market that includes well-known food vendors, local makers and fresh items.
“Andrew has been deeply involved in the planning of the food hall,” Rogers says. “He continues to offer his expertise as a consultant on that aspect of the project and will be critical in bringing the food hall to fruition.”
GET A DRINK
Raise your cocktail glass—or frosty beer mug—to Minneapolis’ thriving brewpub and craft cocktail scene. Since the passage of a 2011 law that allowed production breweries to sell their own beer on-site for the first time in generations, craft beer production has skyrocketed in the city, followed by an uptick in artisan distilleries and cider houses.
The newest space for potent potables is Finnegans House, which hosted a St. Patrick’s Day celebration before its official opening on March 30. The 17-year-old brand is an iconic local beer, and it’s a brand with a bump of do-goodery on the side. “We were the first beer company in world to donate 100 percent of our profits back to the community,” says Jacquie Berglund, Finnegan’s co-founder, CEO and self-described “rambunctious social entrepreneur.” (She says Finnegans is the second longest running organization, after Newman’s Own, in its 100 percent donation model.) Profits from the brewery go to the Finnegans Community Fund, a 501(c)(3) that supports local food banks.
The brewery and taproom are a decided departure from the industrial-chic vibe of many taprooms—in fact, Berglund has dubbed it the Un-Tap Room. “We have super-comfy furniture and great acoustics, and a brewery that’s surrounded in glass, so it allows guests to feel as if they’re a part of the brewing experience,” she says.
Event space in the brand-new facility is plentiful. The Brewer’s Den, a 194-person capacity space on the mezzanine level, is in what Berglund calls the brewery’s “sweet spot” for private events. “The space overlooks the brewery area, so guests can see all the work that’s being done while they enjoy their event.” On the fourth floor, the FINNovation Lab – Impact Hub MSP houses a social business accelerator and community co-working space, with conference rooms and equipment available for booking. The entire complex connects to the 165-room Elliot Park Hotel, an upscale Marriott Autograph property slated to open September 2018. With its downtown Minneapolis location, Finnegans is at the heart of the bustling East Town neighborhood, just blocks from the Armory, light rail, U.S. Bank Stadium and Minneapolis Convention Center.
Another significant space with a brewhouse theme is the $35 million Surly Brewing Company’s “destination brewery” with a beer hall, beer garden, restaurant and even a gift shop. The event space has a 175-guest capacity and includes views of both the brewhouse and the Minneapolis skyline. Other brewery venue options include downtown’s Day Block Brewing Company, which can hold 75 guests and has a private bar that overlooks the brew house. In the thriving Northeast neighborhood, Indeed Brewing Company’s taproom has space available for private events: the Main Taproom holds 100 and the Ox Taproom has a 70-person capacity.
PLAN TO CRAWL
Why stay in just one place? “It’s so much fun to go with a group on a brewery tour or pub crawl,” Wong says. With a density of lively locales in the city, a group event can include plenty of variety and easy transfers. An option for group brewtours is PedalPub Twin Cities, a party bike designed for groups of eight to 16 sippers and peddlers.
The Food Building, a Northeast Minneapolis makers’ incubator, is a must-visit stop during pub crawls. Guests can “lay a base” of comestibles during a private tour and tasting in the space that houses Red Table Meat Co., Bizzy Coffee and Baker's Field Flour & Bread. The entire 3,000-square-foot space, with capacity for 150, offers dramatic views into the makers’ production spaces. Catering is provided by neighboring farm-to-table restaurant The Draft Horse, a restaurant with a full-service menu that includes charcuterie and breads made on-site.
Minneapolis has become a mecca for chefs with big-city talent and hometown roots. The way has been led by hometowner-made-good Gavin Kaysen, executive chef and owner of the hip North Loop restaurant Spoon and Stable and previous winner of the James Beard Rising Star Chef award. Minneapolis chefs named as James Beard award semifinalists this year include Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma, who was nominated for Outstanding Chef. For Best Chef: Midwest, Kaysen was nominated, along with Thomas Boemer of Corner Table, Steven Brown of Tilia, Ann Kim of Young Joni, Jamie Malone of Grand Café and Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai. Other consistently top-rated Minneapolis restaurants include 112 Eatery, The Bachelor Farmer and Bar La Grassa.
Many of Minneapolis’ hottest eateries offer bookable event space, including the brandnew buildout McKinney Roe, adjacent to U.S. Bank Stadium. The 7,000-square-foot contemporary American eatery is on the ground level of the Wells Fargo towers. Owner Dermot Cowley says that not only is the food delicious, but the physical setting is stunning: “The ceilings are 23-feet tall, and the bar goes from floor to ceiling. The level of detail in the finish is jawdropping.” He’s especially proud of the big spiral staircase going up the mezzanine, which has wide views of The Commons, a 4.2-acre public green space adjoining U.S. Bank Stadium. For private events, as many as 100 diners can be seated on that level, with private bar and projection screens. The entire restaurant, with seating for 325 inside and 160 on the outdoor patio, also can be booked for private events. “We can pretty much do anything you need for your event,” Cowley says.
OUT-OF-THE ORDINARY EVENT SPACE
The Armory, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, recently completed a renovation that kept its historic character but added modern features like private suites, a 400-stall underground parking area and a 5,000-square-foot outdoor rooftop patio.
From the late 1930s through the 1970s, the Armory was a venue for civic events, concerts, political conventions and sporting events. It’s even achieved some fame as a music video venue. Minneapolis native Prince used the building to shoot the music video for “1999,” and Aerosmith recorded its music video for “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” The venue has more than 140,000 square feet of total space, and the main exhibition hall has 90,000 square feet and capacity for 8,500.
“We’re an innovative space designed within a historic building, in a venue designed for modularity and versatility,” says Nancy Jacobs, the director of sales and marketing for Entourage Events Group which manages events at the Armory. “We can host all varieties of events, including galas, receptions, sitdown meals, speaking engagements, general sessions, trade shows and live performances.” Jacobs says the calendar is filling up fast: “We have many multiple-day corporate and social events already booked, and we look forward to meeting with planners and producers to see how we can fill their needs.”
Other unique event space in the city includes the Guthrie Theater, located on the banks of the Mississippi River. It houses three theaters and several lobbies, class and conference rooms. Just down the street from the theater is the Mill City Museum, a National Historic Landmark built in the old Washburn A Flour Mill, which can accommodate 500 guests in its largest space. Other notable spaces include Nicollet Island Pavilion, The Machine Shop and The Minneapolis Event Center.
“A hidden gem I often tell people about is the meeting and event space available through the Brave New Workshop, the nation’s oldest comedy theater,” Wong says. “Their Experimental Thinking Centre (ETC) is a flexible event venue right in downtown. Not only do they rent out space, but they also conduct terrific training sessions using the principles of improv comedy.”
Eight Initiatives of Destination Transformation 2030
1. Attract 50 million visitors to the metro area annually by 2030
2. Launch a metro-wide branding and marketing campaign
3. Build an iconic visitors center on downtown’s central riverfront
4. Implement a unified transportation, wayfinding and information program for Minneapolis
5. Adopt a comprehensive placemaking plan to drive Minneapolis’ tourism priorities and investments
6. Accentuate winter as a novel tourism adventure
7. Grow and emphasize hospitality jobs as important to social equity and the metro economy
8. Identify and secure ongoing resources to implement the tourism master plan
The Minneapolis Convention Center has more than 1 million square feet, but it can feel as intimate as a small meeting space, says Melvin Tennant, CAE, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis. “We have several informal gathering places, like the Craft Bar & Lounge or our Seasons space, which has second-floor views of downtown Minneapolis.”
In 2017, the space hosted 380 events and just over 819,000 total attendees. The center includes some unique features, such as a 3,400-seat auditorium that includes three rotating smaller theaters within in it. The skyway system allows conventiongoers to reach a majority of the city’s downtown hotels without going outside.