Hearing about Super Bowl 52 began months ago for me because I both live and work in the host city. As a city planner the phrase, "it has to be done by the Super Bowl" was heard more times that anyone could count. I luckily had less to do with the planning than some of my colleagues that deal with permits and licensing, but it was easy to see the city gearing up faster and faster as the event neared.
In the weeks prior to the game, residents were warned about traffic and street closures. It was thoroughly planned out to cause the least amount of disturbances, but still residents were unhappy. Especially when the were told they could not use their expensive parking garages or normal surface lots. More controversial was the announcement that only Super Bowl ticket holders were allowed to ride the light rail near the stadium on game day and regular residents were stuck taking the replacement buses. That was just the beginning of the inconvenience to locals. Buses were so packed carrying residents down during peak activity times that residents were delayed. Trying to drive downtown was a completely different story. Traffic moved slower than a person could walk, so the easiest option was to throw on a snow suit and walk a few miles from your house.
Another traffic problem was created by protests. I was unfortunate enough to be on a bus caught by one at Hennepin Avenue and University Avenue during rush hour the week before the game. The one sign they carried did a poor job of conveying their message and the protest did little more than make riders late getting home to their families. It did not receive any media attention. The only protest last week that managed to get any sort of attention was a similar protest blocking the light rail carrying passengers to the stadium. Those protesters were arrested, but released soon after. It is interesting that their was swift action and media coverage when Super Bowl attendees were affected, but when it involved residents on their way home it went largely unnoticed.
The week leading up to the Super Bowl saw a steady rise in pedestrian traffic. The skyways are only ever busy during the lunch hour as downtown workers go out to eat, but with colder temperatures and a focus from the host committee on better way finding, attendees took to the skyway system. That did not mean that Nicollet Mall, the street reserved for Super Bowl Live events was not packed with people. Especially during one of the dozen or so free concerts put on by local Minnesota musicians and groups, there was little room to move around. Also on Nicollet Mall was the Birkebeiner Bridge, shipped in from Wisconsin, ice sculptures and the Dayton's Building filled with food vendors (if you were willing to pay $9 for a slice of pizza), the Kitty Bowl (if you were okay waiting an hour to look at a few cats), a Prince display (a few of his outfits, shoe collection, and guitar), and Sleep Number beds to test out (an oddly high trafficked area).
Some of these attractions were obviously unique to Minnesota such as the Birkebeiner Bridge and the ice sculptures (I'm not sure any other Super Bowl has had a snow mobiler do a flip in their downtown). I am curious to know if the free concerts are offered every year or if Minneapolis' music heritage gave impetus to this idea. I know the zip line has been used before, but has it ever taken people across a river? We also permitted dozens of pop up bars in storefronts along Nicollet Mall near the stadium.
What is it like for cities that have their stadiums marooned out in a sea of parking and fields? Are there pop up bars in the parking lots? Or is the stadium a vacant place until Sunday arrives? If the Super Bowl is going to claim it does wonders for the local economy, I feel like it needs to be at a stadium like in Minneapolis which is right in the heart of downtown, easy walking distance to all the local establishments.
Each year the economic impact of the game is brought up. Like all hot button issues there are strong advocates on either side. As the protests demonstrated, some people believe hosting the game is wasting taxpayer money. Others speak to the dollars spent at local hotels, restaurants, and bars on top of the publicity brought to the city. It certainly helped out the owners of short term rental homes or people renting out their spare bedrooms. The host committee believes they raised enough money to cover all the costs, but the total cost to the City of Minneapolis is still unclear.
For the next week we will watch as all the infrastructure brought in to host the Super Bowl is carted away and sent back to where it came from. Soon enough our city will be back to normal and any trace of the Super Bowl will be gone. If the economists are right, the local businesses will still feel the effects with the increased publicity Minneapolis received these past few weeks. But to the average person like myself, it will all become a distant memory. That time the Super Bowl came and took over the city for a few weeks.