Minneapolis Convention Center on the Mend
The Minneapolis Convention Center hosted 218 events in 2022, down from around 350 to 400 events in years before the pandemic. Ric Rosow Photography

Minneapolis Convention Center on the Mend

The downtown Minneapolis events center hosted 218 events in 2022, still down from pre-pandemic levels. But leaders are optimistic for 2023.

The Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC) is back on the mend after a rocky few years in the event industry. Though the number of events hosted there hasn’t quite returned to pre-pandemic levels, it’s getting closer. In 2020, the center hosted less than 100 events, but in 2022, it held 218 events, according to MCC’s latest tabulations.

For perspective, the center was holding between 350 and 400 events in the years preceding the pandemic. In 2023, though, MCC officials expect to hold about 300 events and attract over 600,000 people.

With fewer events, the center obviously pulled in less revenue. In 2022, MCC reported revenue of $16 million and attracted about 400,000 visitors. In both 2018 and 2019, the center had revenue of over $20 million. Those were each high-performing years due to events related to Super Bowl LII and March Madness.

The plan now is to hit those pre-pandemic numbers by 2025, said MCC executive director Jeffrey Johnson. In his view, a financially healthy events center would boost the economic welfare of downtown Minneapolis overall.

“We’re selling ourselves as sort of the face of Minneapolis, and we want people to explore and get a good feel for what Minneapolis is all about,” Johnson said. “We’re not just selling our building, we’re selling the entire experience of what it’s like to come to Minneapolis and to engage with Minneapolis.”

The MCC was originally built not just to attract people downtown with events but also to funnel them into other downtown businesses, like restaurants and hotels. This is why the MCC isn’t funded by the property taxes of Minneapolis residents, but by a percentage of tax revenue from the city’s hospitality and lodging services, said Johnson. This includes taxes from sales at restaurants, hotels, and entertainment in the city. In 2018, the city recorded about $8 million in lodging taxes. Leaders at the MCC, of course, said the convention center played a role in reaching that number.

Graduating students and guest attend the Spring Undergraduate Commencement Exercises on May 24, 2014 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

“In many ways, it feeds itself,” Johnson said. “We’re the foundation of the hospitality industry. … If we stay strong, and if our building is strong, and if our staffing levels are strong, then we get to help produce even more and more revenues that we can keep investing into the rest of the city.”

The MCC is currently working on building its own staffing. At the moment, the center needs to hire 20% more employees, or about 35 people, Johnson said.

But, like scores of other business leaders in the city, the MCC said it’s facing recruiting difficulties. At the same time, the MCC has had to face a tighter booking window of about six months for events, where it previously knew about a forthcoming event a couple of years in advance.

“The speed of how the events are coming at us has just really increased,” Johnson said. “Then just the fact of getting people up to speed from our staffing standpoint. Those are probably the two biggest challenges.”

Marketing remains among its biggest strategies for rebuilding. The city of Minneapolis owns the center, but Meet Minneapolis is charged with marketing it. Nationally, MCC competes with other urban centers for hosting events.

“We need more activity, more people–and we’re building towards that,” Johnson said.