Minnesota Sports Corp., the local organization in charge of last month’s NCAA Final Four, will dissolve at the end of June and halt efforts to win $2 million in state funding to keep it going as a regional group.
The decision came Monday after a three-hour closed-door meeting of the nonprofit’s board. Final Four Local Organizing Committee CEO and President Kate Mortenson issued a short statement saying the group had “begun wind-down of its operations.”
The announcement was a reversal of what Mortenson had been saying for weeks as she aimed to keep the Final Four operation running as a “regional events catalyst” to produce more high-profile events for the Twin Cities.
Minnesota Sports Corp. board member Melvin Tennant, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, said that Monday’s board meeting included “a robust discussion. ... Everyone around that table is passionate and wants what’s best for our region’s sports tourism industry.”
The morning after the Virginia Cavaliers won the Final Four championship at U.S. Bank Stadium early last month, Mortenson said she was seeking $2 million at the State Capitol to retain core staff members for a new group that would work to create new events and enhance those already here.
By then Mortenson, armed with a consultant’s report from the Itasca Project — a group of state business leaders who meet privately to discuss regional competitiveness — had been lobbying elected officials for weeks to create the new organization.
Minnesota Sports Corp. had hired a lobbyist to pursue funding, and Mortenson contended that the new organization would provide the “missing link” to landing large events.
In her corner were several high-profile allies — including her husband, David Mortenson, chairman of Minneapolis construction giant M.A. Mortenson Co., as well as co-chairman of Minnesota Sports Corp. and past chairman of Itasca.
Also backing Kate Mortenson was Jim Dwyer, an Itasca member and CEO and president of 8th Ave. Food & Provisions.
But once Mortenson’s plan became widely known, pushback came swiftly from the Twin Cities’ three big convention bureaus: Meet Minneapolis, Visit St. Paul and the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau. They said they already worked together on events ranging from sports to political conventions and trade meetings, and opposed Mortenson’s plan.
Some Minnesota Sports Corp. board members, caught off guard by the hired lobbyist and Mortenson’s campaign, demanded a meeting. Among concerned board members was Michael Vekich, chairman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), which oversees U.S. Bank Stadium for taxpayers.
Vekich said the decision to dissolve Minnesota Sports Corp. was not unusual: “The Super Bowl folks did the same” with their local host committee. That began the morning in February 2018 after Super Bowl LII was played in Minneapolis, when the committee began shedding staffers.
Minneapolis Chief Financial Officer Mark Ruff, another board member, signed the letter seeking a board meeting and agreed with Vekich that event-oriented boards typically are expected to dissolve once an event is over.
Asked to elaborate on what happened at the meeting, both Ruff and Vekich deferred to Mortenson’s brief statement.
In that statement, Mortenson praised the local Final Four committee.
“Our highly talented team members will be identifying their next opportunities in the coming weeks and office operations will close at the end of June,” she wrote.
Mortenson declined to answer questions beyond the scope of the statement.
Tennant said that Meet Minneapolis will continue efforts to restore $2 million in state funding typically granted to Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism agency, and develop the role of Sports Minneapolis, an arm of the convention bureau.
“We will continue that work with our partners, which include both Visit St. Paul and the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau, and look forward to those next steps,” Tennant said.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson