Playoff mania for Wolves, Wild drives big boost for downtowns

Downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul businesses are finally seeing the boost they’ve been hoping for with the Timberwolves and Wild making the playoffs.

Both O’Donovan’s and Kieran’s Irish pubs expect to make more than $20,000 Friday night with the Timberwolves’ win or elimination game at Target Center in the NBA playoffs.

“We are pumped,” said Valid Serhan, operations head for Kieran’s. The pub was going to be closed but rallied to get enough staff to cover the expected crowd. Serhan expects each patron to spend about $35.

The Wild plays the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center, still battling for home ice advantage in the NHL playoffs.

The St. Paul Hotel nearby is booked solid.

The heady potential of playoff games is bringing smiles to city officials on both sides of the Mississippi as downtowns welcome bumps in sales for everything from bar tabs to hotel rooms.

While the final impact is yet to be determined, the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four is credited with giving a big boost to pandemic-weary businesses. And none of the teams in the Final Four was from Minnesota.

“The impact of [the Wild’s] playoff push has been tremendous,” said Joe Spencer, president of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance. “[It] is worth millions of dollars in spending and economic activity in downtown St. Paul.”

The same is true for the Timberwolves and Minneapolis, he said. “Go Wild. Go Wolves.”

More than one-third of hospitality operators in Minnesota have returned to or surpassed pre-pandemic revenue levels. About the same percentage said they won’t cross that line until next year, and 5% say they never will, according to a survey released last month by Hospitality Minnesota, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and Explore Minnesota.

The Timberwolves are expected to pack Minneapolis’ 18,700-seat Target Center when they battle the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night in playoff game No. 6. Tickets range from about $60 to $775.

In St. Paul, Wild fans are shelling out $49 to $160 to watch the team play Friday.

“We have a rabid fan base, and they are energized and excited,” Spencer said. “People are parking their cars, going out for drinks and coffee and getting a meal. All of that is just great for downtown St. Paul.”

The Timberwolves’ three home playoff games in two weeks have energized sales at places like O’Donovan’s.

“There is hope for millions of dollars in spending across the series for the city,” said Meet Minneapolis convention bureau spokeswoman Courtney Ries. “We are incredibly excited.”

Last Saturday, when the Timberwolves and Twins both played downtown, hotel occupancy rates were 73%, one of the highest since the pandemic began. Fans flooded Kieran’s, O’Donovan’s and the Loon Cafe.

“Our hotels saw a really nice kick in their bookings in the days leading up to Saturday. The hard-core fans came,” Ries said.

Despite Friday’s Timberwolves game there likely won’t be as many people in downtown Minneapolis as last Saturday, since there’s no Twins home game that day. The AC Hotel, which was booked last weekend, has 80 rooms left.

Yet Friday will still deliver a “packed house, absolutely,” to Target Center, said Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer.

A playoff game instantly increases revenue because it brings thousands of people downtown who would not have made the trip otherwise, he said.

“It’s really exciting that the team is making this playoff run,” Cramer said. “It’s definitely a huge plus for downtown.”

All 300 of the seats at Lyon’s Pub, a block from Target Center, were filled during Saturday’s game, said general manager and former owner Ray Rodgers. I hope for a repeat Friday.

“It’s been a long two-plus years … but we are getting there slowly,” Rodgers said. “Playoffs are games that people get very excited about. It will be a full house.”

Two blocks away, O’Donovan’s was closed for 13 months because of the pandemic and the unrest following George Floyd’s killing, said owner Dermot Cowley. It reopened a year ago but only part time since Timberwolves fans never fully returned downtown — until this month’s playoffs.

Most game nights produced “just a few grand” to support a handful of workers, Cowley said. So expecting more than $20,000 in receipts on Friday is huge.

“Kieran’s Pub is probably three or four times the size of us, so it should be a windfall for them,” he said. “The Timberwolves battled extra hard to get this extra game, and now every restaurant like ours is saying thank the Lord for another payday.”

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