The NCAA Men’s Final Four is not merely a series of three basketball games; it’s four days of area-wide events bringing in upwards of 100,000 visitors pouring millions of dollars into the local economy.
And then it’s gone.
But the affects of the April 5 – April 8 events, culminating in the championship game at US Bank Stadium, will be long-lasting thanks to intentional planning by those of the area host committee. That intentionality was on display this past Wednesday (Jan. 16) when in announcing the series of fan experience events that announcement was not made at a predictable location such as the stadium or convention center or somewhere along Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis where many events will occur. The announcement was made at 1801 James Ave. N. That is the address to North Commons Park in the heart of North Minneapolis.
Though the NCAA may not have had North Minneapolis specifically in mind when it chose its host city for the 2019 Final Four, it has been made clear through action that the neighborhoods – and more importantly, the people – that make up North Minneapolis will not be left out in the cold.
The announcement of fan activities – activities that include the Final Four Fan Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Final Four Friday, a free open practice of the four teams who will compete for the crown, a daily tailgate on Nicollet Mall, the March Madness Music Series at the Armory, and Final Four Dribble, a youth parade – was highlighted by the announcement that the gymnasium where the activities where unveiled will get a facelift thanks to the NCAA Final Four host committee, Tri-Construction, and volunteers from Unilever and Target.
The gym, built in 1908, a facility of Minneapolis Parks & Recreation, serves as a community hub for North Minneapolis, serving residents from youth to elderly.
For Willie Jasper, a 29-year employee at North Commons Park, the coming upgrades are heartwarming.
“I cried (when I heard about the upgrades) because with so many bad things happening around here; to hear about something good makes me cry,” said Jasper, who was given the ceremonial honor of cutting down the nets on a basketball goal inside of the North Commons gym. “North Commons is a part of me. This (the facility upgrades) is for the community.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the decision to announce upcoming Final Four events at North Commons demonstrates an overall commitment to North Minneapolis.
“There are some extraordinary things happening here in North Minneapolis and we need to highlight them,” said Frey.
Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board Commissioner Kale Severson said the commitment to North Commons warms his heart.
“I feel like they are investing in our community,” said Severson. “And the fact that youth of our community will benefit most means the world to me.”
North Community High School boys’ basketball coach Larry McKenzie said the NCAA’s commitment to North Minneapolis will pay dividends for years to come.
“It’s planting a seed. We know a lot of kids in our community can’t participate in (Final Four) events because of costs, so to come here and open themselves up to our community; this investment is major,” said McKenzie, a Minnesota Basketball Hall of Fame coach.