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Minnesota makes push for Final Four bid

A bid to bring the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball tournament to the new Minnesota Vikings stadium was outlined Tuesday by Gov. Mark Dayton with two former University of Minnesota basketball stars at his side.

The new stadium, supplanting in about the same spot the recently departed Metrodome in Minneapolis, is scheduled to open for the Vikings in 2016. It will host the Super Bowl in 2018. The Dome hosted men’s Final Fours in 1992 and 2001.

Dayton also was joined by state and local business leaders in the Governor’s Reception Room to spell out the bid for what has become one of America’s most high profile annual sports gatherings.

Hosting a Final Four “would bring tens of thousands of visitors to Minnesota and put our state center stage during one of the most-watched sporting events of the year,” Dayton said in a prepared statement. “We plan to pursue this opportunity — and the economic benefits that come with it — with the same enthusiasm and creativity that secured the 2018 Super Bowl.”

Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority, the body that is overseeing the new stadium’s construction, said Tuesday afternoon that the glass-dominated venue will be reconfigured for the early April semifinal and championship games to seat 70,000.

The Final Four bid to the NCAA was submitted on May 9, Kelm-    Helgen said. The NCAA named Minneapolis in January as one of eight finalists to host Final Fours from 2017 to 2020. The others are: Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, North Texas, Phoenix/Glendale, San Antonio and St. Louis.

A decision for hosts for those years is expected in November, Kelm-Helgen added, with the earliest shot for Minneapolis being 2018, just two months after the Super Bowl.

The NCAA “always does a preliminary round” from the entire tournament the year before in a Final Four host location, she said. “Realistically, 2017 is not an option for Minneapolis.”

Kelm-Helgen said that a successful first go-round with the Final Four could lead to repeated opportunities.

She added that another coveted event, a major college football bowl game, is another possibility for the facility on the eastern edge of downtown.

Dayton said no taxpayer money will be involved in the campaign to land a Final Four, which has as its honorary co-chairs Lindsay Whalen and Trent Tucker, both former Gophers who made their marks in the pros. The University of Minnesota, the state’s only Division I school for basketball, would act as host.

Tucker, who also is athletic director for Minneapolis public schools, said he’s looking forward to working with the NCAA and others “on the youth programs that are a major component in the bid process and in the legacy that follows the championship game,” namely basketball clinics for students in grades three through eight.

Landing the NFL’s 2018 Super Bowl was a victory that “puts us in the game for any major event,” Melvin Tennant, president of Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention and visitor’s group, said last month. “This opens up a lot of doors for us.”

As with the Super Bowl bid, Meet Minneapolis pulled together the specifics of the Final Four proposal, addressing the typical specifics on hotels, transportation and venues for related events.

Next comes a visit by NCAA representatives in the summer, said Meet Minneapolis spokeswoman Kristen Montag. “They will be touring the venues and asking questions,” she said.

Montag said that while locking up the Super Bowl “helps definitely” in securing a Final Four, “we’re not resting on our laurels. We don’t think we will get everything that we ask for because of that.”

The 2014 Final Four was played at the new home of the Dallas Cowboys, while Indianapolis will be the host in 2015 and Houston in 2016.

In a sign of the city’s new aggressiveness regarding sports events, Meet Minneapolis last month launched Sports Minneapolis, an affiliate specifically created to lure more sporting events to the city.

The NCAA last fall helped Minneapolis “build its best bid” for the Final Four, said David Worlock, the media and statistics coordinator for the NCAA. The city was named a finalist in January, Worlock said.