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Civic center puts Mankato on entertainment map

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p cutline: An architect's rendering of the new Mankato Civic Center, which opens this weekend. Several major family shows and concerts have already been booked into the building.

George Smith, director of Rochester's Mayo Civic Center, has suddenly become unusually interested in the Mankato State University hockey team.

That's because on Friday night, MSU's hockey team will take to the ice and inaugarate the new Mankato Civic Center, which is expected to become a major player in the concert, family show and convention business.

With a capacity of 7,200 for concerts, an adjacent exhibit hall and a contract with a private management company that has ties to other major buildings in the Upper Midwest, the $22 million Mankato Civic Center represents a formidable challenge to Mayo Civic Center's position as the pre-eminent entertainment and convention venue in southern Minnesota.

``We're concerned about it,'' Smith said. ``Anytime there's another ingredient in the mix, things are going to be competitive. We're getting geared up for it.''

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Already, Timothy Berry, director of the Mankato Civic Center, has booked Dorothy Hamill's Ice Capades, the Lipizzaner Stallions, a rodeo, concerts by Brooks &; Dunn, Vince Gill and Patty Loveless, and Mankato State hockey and basketball into the new building.

``We've tried to get in as many different activities as we can to show the versatility of the building,'' Berry said.

Berry has projected a market size of nearly 500,000 for the Mankato Civic Center. That places the eastern boundary of the market in Dodge County. In reality, he said, the market's furthest eastward extension will reach Interstate 35 in Steele County, about 35 miles west of Rochester.

Asked if he viewed Mayo Civic Center as a competitor, Berry said, ``Only in the sense that it's the next venue to the east.''

But while Mankato may not cut into the Rochester audience base, Smith is concerned the new venue will cut into Rochester's concert and convention business.

``Now we're looking at an additional city in the rotation for state meetings and conventions,'' Smith said. And Mankato's contract with Ogden Management Services, which will actually run the new civic center, connects Mankato with Ogden-managed buildings in Minneapolis (Target Center), Fargo, N.D., Sioux Falls, S.D., and Ames and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. ``They're going to be able to put some concerts in those buildings,'' Smith said.

On the other hand, Smith said, ``We have a pretty successful track record in Rochester. I think people like coming here.''

He said Rochester's wealth of downtown hotel rooms, along with planned improvements to Mayo Civic Center, give Rochester a natural advantage.

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``I'm not knocking Mankato,'' Smith said. ``It's a nice university town. But we've got so much to offer.'' Tom Weber The Post-Bulletin@et

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