Will spending $81 million bring bigger acts to civic center?

Mayo Civic Center Outdoor Pavilion.jpg
The newly renovated Mayo Civic Center will include an outdoor pavilion when completed in 2017.

The Mayo Civic Center is on the verge of an $81 million makeover that is expected to lure big conventions and business expos to Rochester.

But will spending all that money bring bigger entertainment events to town?

The two-year project will begin this spring, with a contractor to be chosen by the Rochester City Council on May 2. The company with the winning bid will start the renovation as soon as possible, expanding the center in every direction.

Civic Center Executive Director Donna Drews said 85 entertainment events were brought to Mayo in 2014. Despite the construction, a similar number of acts should be booked this year.

"We are not overly concerned with construction affecting live events," Drews said. "Access will continue to be available through the north lobby. We have made arrangements for access for high school tournaments, so a concert would be the same thing. We will continue to operate the arena, the auditorium and Presentation Hall and the exhibit hall pretty much the way they are.


"Access won't be great because the skyway will be down for a little while, but we hope to have it back up by next winter, so we can keep people inside during the cold months," she said. "There will be signage around the building so people will be able to get from one part to another even if construction blocks the quickest route."

So 2015 and 2016 bookings should look the same, but what about 2017?

During the December 2014 meeting of the Mayo Civic Center Commissions, Drews said she would like a concert like the sold-out Little Big Town show once a month. Would a newly renovated civic center help Drews reach that goal?


Even though Mayo Civic Center officials are not updating Taylor Arena, Mayo Civic Center Auditorium or Presentation Hall, Drews believes the $81 million convention center facelift will make it easier to bring major acts to Rochester. Currently, the Mayo Civic Center books conventions and meetings into three facilities built for sports and entertainment.

Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the new convention center will end the need for that. Once the new convention center, which will have a 40,000 square foot ballroom, is built, the entertainment facilities can be used solely to entertain.

Jade Nielsen, president and founder of Jade Presents, said opening more dates at Mayo Civic Center would definitely help bring more acts to Rochester. Jade Presents recently booked Upper Midwest tours for acts such as The Steve Miller Band and Marilyn Manson.

"Dates are crucial," Nielsen said. "Many times an act will only have a few days available, and if space isn't available in a particular town, you look at another town. Then, you have country acts who only like to play weekends, especially in smaller markets, so that takes even more days away. If I try to put a show in Rochester on the weekend, and it has a convention going on, we have to look at other options, like Mankato."


Drews admits that Rochester isn't at the top of most acts' priority lists, so most of the local concert dates are "pick-ups." With more open dates, she hopes more national acts and shows will stop in Rochester between concerts in Chicago, Madison, Wis., Sioux Falls, S.D., and Fargo, N.D.

"We kind of do what we can to get our toe in the door, so we can let promoters know what's available in Rochester," she said.


While convention business cuts down the number of open dates, that isn't one of Drews' two biggest concerns.

"We are too close to Minneapolis and St. Paul, and casinos are still impacting us," Drews said.

For some time it looked like Sarah McLachlan would play Mayo Civic Center in March, but she instead picked Mystic Lake Casino. Gary Allan played to a packed house in the Civic Center Auditorium in 2008, but the past two years he's played Treasure Island Casino instead of Mayo.


Since 2000, new arenas have been built in Duluth, Omaha, Sioux City and Sioux Falls. Three of those cities are similar in size to Rochester. Once the new arena was built, bigger acts showed up.


"If you build it, they will come," doesn't just work for baseball fields, Nielsen said.

"When a promoter or agent gets word about a new building, they try to pack as many shows in the arena as possible because he knows there's going to be a honeymoon period and people are going to want to check out the new building," Nielsen said.

"In Rochester's case, I don't think building a new convention center and keeping the same arena will do much," he said. "There may be some interest, but I don't see a big difference. What's going to help Rochester is if there truly will be more open dates."

Drews said she could see a "honeymoon period."

"There is always a honeymoon. There was when we built Taylor Arena back in 1986," she said. "We got a ton of shows. It might draw some interest. It all depends. … If it's new and fresh, people pay attention. It doesn't mean it's better, but we are hoping for that."

Don't forget about sports

Taylor Arena and Mayo Civic Auditorium will still host numerous sporting events. Officials have already told the Minnesota State High School League about the two-year construction project and they have been told that all postseason tournaments will continue to be played at Mayo.

In addition, the arena would consider professional basketball again, even though it has failed four times previously. Minnesota Timberwolves officials have talked about running its own National Basketball Developmental League team. The Mayo Clinic now a major partner of the Timberwolves and a Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center was just built across the street from the the Timberwolves' home, Target Center.

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