The ripple effect of a defunct Dome

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January 31, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
The ghost of the 501 Club might end up haunting business owners in Downtown East this spring and summer.

When Jarret Oulman first told reporters that he would shutter his Downtown rock venue, which closed on Jan. 8, he alluded to the Metrodome’s roof collapse — and the missed business from two relocated Vikings home games — as a finishing blow that finally brought down a struggling bar.

Now, a month later, Ted Mondale, the newly appointed head of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, is saying that the roof may not be repaired in time for the start of preseason football in August. The brutal cold has stalled evaluators, who are still unsure as to whether the entire roof needs to be replaced or just part of it. Replacing the whole roof would take at least six months.

“You’re kidding me,” said Michael “Rosie” Rosenthal, general manager of Maxwell’s American Pub, 1201 Washington Ave. S.

While the missed Vikings games were a big blow to business, Rosenthal says that the cancellation of myriad smaller events is feeling like a death by paper cuts.

“What really hurt us a lot, outside of the Vikings games, was the Monday night rollerblading,” said Rosenthal.

Now in its 20th year, Mike Cofrin’s company Rollerdome, Inc. has been hosting indoor rollerblading nights at the Metrodome five times a week from April through November. Monday nights, he says, can draw as many as 600 skaters. In the wake of the roof collapse, 13 skating nights were cancelled. Rollerdome returned on Jan. 17, and an additional 14 dates were added to the schedule.

“It’s really the small events that can take tables out of your sales,” Rosenthal said. “This area is just getting hit with one thing after another.”

January’s sold-out Twins Fest was moved from the Dome to the National Sports Center in Blaine, diverting some 32,000 fans away from the restaurant-heavy Downtown East, Mill District and Seven Corners neighborhoods. And the Jan. 22 Advanced Auto Parts Monster Jam, another annual cash cow for area bars, was cancelled outright.

“The minute that [roof] went down, we started looking ahead,” said Larry LaMont, general manager for the Holiday Inn Minneapolis Metrodome, a high-rise hotel overlooking the Dome. “And we picked Twins Fest and the monster truck event as being number one and number two. … They are big for us. There’s an impact, there’s no question.”

“We definitely missed the Monster Jam,” said Cody Walker, manager of Hubert’s Bar & Restaurant, 601 Chicago Ave. S. “From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. they kick everyone out during their pit party thing. So we usually fill up those two hours straight.”

The relocated high school and college baseball games — it’s estimated that more than 300 originally scheduled through March had to be moved — are also a concern.

“We get a lot of one- and two-night reservations that come in for the college games,” said LaMont. “But sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly they’re here. I’m sure that once we go through that timeline we’ll see the impact.”

“It’s not like we fill up the restaurant at one time, but it’s an extra 20 or 30 people that aren’t coming through the door that normally would be,” Walker said.

While no one would reveal exactly how much sales have fallen, all businesses agreed that the damage was not limited to the dropped NFL events.

Rosenthal cited the paint company Valspar’s decision in February 2009 to move its corporate headquarters from the corner of Washington and Chicago Avenues to the Ameriprise Building near Downtown’s core. That fall, the Golden Gophers football team vacated the Dome for the newly opened TCF Bank Stadium. And then of course in 2010, the Twins decamped for Target Field.

Add in escalating property taxes and rising fees for liquor licenses, and profit margins in Downtown East grow disturbingly slim.

Maxwell’s has teamed up with some Seven Corners bars to run shuttle buses to and from TCF Bank Stadium for football games, which has helped recapture some lost business. In April 2010, with the help of hotel magnate Ralph Burnet, Hubert’s opened a second location adjacent to Target Field, and the old location, according to Walker, has upped its focus on lunch and happy hour business, drawing hospital workers in from nearby Hennepin County Medical Center.

But of course, the biggest help would be getting their old stadium back — or getting a brand new one.

“If that new Vikings stadium comes to pass, if it does go on that old Metrodome site, and if it is built to be multipurpose, it’ll have the same impact as Target Field, I think,” said LaMont.

“The quicker that thing [the Metrodome roof] gets up, the better for us,” added Rosenthal.

The Metropolitan Sports Facility Commission had been expecting final results from a damage assessment by the end of January, but Mondale’s recent announcement has kept bar owners hanging.

“Ideally, putting a brand new stadium in that area would be perfect for us,” said Rosenthal. “But that’s up to the politicians.”

Reach Gregory J. Scott at gscott@mnpubs.com.