Charlotte as Super Bowl host? City’s leaders hear how Minneapolis did it

Charlotte’s leaders have long nursed dreams of hosting a Super Bowl.

Thursday, Twin Cities leaders who won the bidding for the 2018 Super Bowl told them what it would take: lots of money, a new football stadium, and plenty of legwork to beat out flashier or more experienced cities.

Charlotte leaders, while thrilled by the prospect of chasing one of the world’s highest-profile sports events, said they realized such a move would be tough and controversial.

“Some of the toughest votes our City Council and county commissioners take are around transit and professional sports,” said Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, part of a delegation of about 130 visiting Minneapolis as part of the Charlotte Chamber’s annual fact-finding trip to other cities.

“There’s a lot of venom, and a lot of furor, people questioning whether you’re sure what you’re about to do is really right.”

The NFL last month announced that Minneapolis-St. Paul will host the 2018 game. A key to landing it was the $1 billion stadium now under construction.

About half the money for the stadium came from the state, Minneapolis leaders told the visitors from Charlotte. Minneapolis corporate leaders pumped in about $30 million for the bid, helping the region beat out New Orleans and Indianapolis, both of which have hosted the game.

“It was a five-month, intensive, every day event,” said Lester Bagley, vice president of public affairs and stadium development for the Minnesota Vikings, who will use the new stadium.

He acknowledged that the idea of holding the Super Bowl in snowy Minneapolis in February might have seemed unappealing to some.

But the Vikings’ owners lobbied other NFL owners, and civic leaders pointed to an estimated economic impact of $324 million.

That figure didn’t escape debate in the Twin Cities – much as predictions of strong economic impact from Charlotte’s NASCAR Hall of Fame turned out wrong.

“Some economists will argue there’s no economic impact” from an event like the Super Bowl, Bagley said. But with tens of thousands of people renting hotel rooms and spending money in bars and restaurants, “you can’t argue that that’s not having some sort of economic impact.”

His comments came as part of a panel discussion at the University of Minnesota about public-private partnerships in promoting pro sports.

Charlotte’s leaders have said they would like to one day host the Super Bowl, but questions about the number of hotel rooms available and the capacity of Bank of America Stadium have made the chances of landing it seem small.

Charlotte Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith called it a viable long-term goal for the city, similar to its successful bid to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Minneapolis leaders said they went into the Super Bowl bidding as underdogs to Indianapolis and New Orleans, which had won 10 out of 10 previous bids for the game.

“They showed up to collect the hardware,” Bagley said of New Orleans officials. “We outworked them.”

Melvin Tennant, head of Meet Minneapolis, the local convention and visitor’s group, said there were questions about the Twin Cities’ hotel room supply, too. However, local leaders pressed hotels to make rooms available for Super Bowl visitors and succeeded in meeting the NFL’s requirements, said Tennant, former head of the Visit Charlotte tourism agency.

Charlotte officials said they realize the city’s a long way from making a bid for the Super Bowl. Bank of America Stadium is undergoing renovations now as part of a $65 million construction project that will add new escalators, video boards and other upgrades to the 18-year-old structure.

The city of Charlotte is picking up the tab for most of the renovations as part of an $87.5 million deal that “tethers” the team to Charlotte for at least six years. The deal also gives the team $12.5 million in operating subsidies.

The Twin Cities has not only backed the new football stadium, but the region’s Minnesota Twins baseball team has a new $540 million stadium, where it will host Major League Baseball’s All-Star game next month.

Twins President Dave St. Peter told the group the new stadium sits at the juncture of the city’s two light rail lines, and has helped turn its neighborhood into one of the region’s hottest development sectors.

Both stadium projects took 12 years to win approval, officials said.

Kimble, Charlotte’s deputy city manager, said the city likely will have to have more stadium upgrade discussions in the future if it wants to keep the Panthers long-term.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has said he won’t sell the team, but the team has said the Panthers will be sold within two years of his death.

Richardson, 77, had a heart transplant in 2009.

Negotiating the next set of stadium upgrades after the current “tether” expires “will be twice as difficult,” Kimble said, because there likely will be a new owner.

The city is also considering what to do about Time Warner Cable Arena, where the Charlotte Hornets and tourism officials are seeking $41.9 million for improvements.

“If you’re in the game of pro sports, you have to be all in,” Kimble said. “We’ve seen what happens if you’re not all the way in -- you lose a team.”

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