Mar 8, 2024 - News

Twin Cities downtowns are bustling thanks to spring events

Illustration of the Minneapolis skyline with a basketball behind it as if rising like a sun.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

The downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul are having a busy spring tourism season as visitors flock to the cities for sporting events, parades, conventions and, well, because their bosses said so.

Why it matters: March is normally a slow month for tourism in Minnesota, but the boost this year is much needed for hospitality businesses in one of the slowest metro areas to rebound from the pandemic.

State of play: Meet Minneapolis expects 200,000 visitors in the city between this week and next.

  • The Big Ten women's basketball tournament, which started Wednesday, is expected to bring a record 108,000 fans, thanks to Caitlin Clark.
  • The American Physical Society's March meeting wraps up today. It brought more than 13,000 physicists to town, 30% of whom are international travelers, according to Meet Minneapolis.
  • Next week, the Big Ten men's basketball tournament tips off. So far, it's sold 75,000 tickets, but that number should rise once the bracket is set.

Plus, most of Target's 7,100-employee downtown workforce was back in the office this week as part of the company's "core weeks" program that requires employees back four weeks per year.

The other side of town: St. Paul also has a busy spring schedule.

  • The state high school hockey tournament wraps up on Saturday.
  • The St. Patrick's Day parade will fill downtown's streets on March 16. Previous parades have drawn 100,000 to the Saintly City.
  • And two more big hockey tournaments are on tap for Xcel Energy Center: the National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament is March 22-23 and then the NCAA Frozen Four is April 11-13.

By the numbers: Downtown Minneapolis hotel occupancies increased to 51% in 2023, but that's still well below 2019, when 69% of rooms were booked, per the Star Tribune.

What they're saying: Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant told Axios that getting back to pre-pandemic tourism levels will be difficult because corporate travel may never return to its previous volume. But landing more events in the winter has been a focus for the city's tourism agency.

  • "We're going to have to do things to replace that lost (corporate) business. We have been working really hard with our partners to bring in more groups and conventions," Tennant said.

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