May 19 2019

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For Twin Cities hotels and rentals, Final Four is sweet, but no Super Bowl

Minutes after Michigan State’s one-point upset of Duke late Sunday night, a group of six Spartans fans were online searching for a crash pad near U.S. Bank Stadium.

They booked Krista Browne’s “Final Four Flat,” a lower-level unit, a few days after the upper had been booked by a couple of Texas Tech fans.

Both units fetched more than the usual rate, but only about half of what Browne brought in during the 2018 Super Bowl.

“College basketball is not professional football, and traveling NCAA fans are different from Super Bowl fans,” said Browne.

That’s what Twin Cities hotels and vacation rental hosts are finding out, as the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has proved to be far from a Super Bowl replay.

But with hours dwindling before the opening tip-off, Final Four fans, who only found out a few days ago that their team will play, are scrambling to secure lodging options in the Twin Cities. The pickings are getting slimmer. With several Minneapolis hotels filled up, the focus has shifted to suburban hotels and Twin Cities-area VRBOs, Airbnb and rentals.

Meet Minneapolis spokesperson Kristen Montag said that final occupancy numbers won’t be known until after the games begin this weekend, but a Final Four lodging website that’s hosted by the NCAA already says hotels in Minneapolis are sold out.

That’s not quite true. Hotel managers say there are some rooms available in the city, and plenty in surrounding communities. Not to mention hundreds of private rentals.

A midweek survey of a couple dozen Minneapolis hotels by Meet Minneapolis shows that only five major hotels were completely booked. David Griffin, director of sales and marketing at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel, said he booked his final room midweek.

“There have been a few rooms that have been canceled leading up to the Final Four, but those have since been booked,” he said.

With only 9,293 hotel rooms in the city of Minneapolis, but more than 44,000 hotel rooms throughout the metro, visitors are expanding their search to St. Paul and the suburbs.

Jan Kroells, vice president of marketing for the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau, says that while hotels closest to the airport and the Mall of America are filling up quickly, plenty of hotel options remain where visitors can easily take the light rail into downtown Minneapolis.

The hotel scene in downtown Minneapolis is better equipped than ever to handle the crush. During the past couple years, several upscale, boutique hotels have opened. The latest is the Canopy Minneapolis Mill District by Hilton, a block from U.S. Bank Stadium. Developer George Sherman finished the conversion of a historic brick and timber warehouse just a couple weeks ago.

“We are excited that the Final Four is our big reveal, we’re ready to celebrate this gem,” said Sherman.

Late this week crews finished installing a 133-inch projection screen and additional extra-large televisions have been installed throughout the Canopy lobby, and the hotel will have live music through the weekend.

Sherman also owns the Aloft Minneapolis hotel about two blocks from the stadium along Washington Avenue. Sherman said that 80 to 90 percent of the rooms in both hotels were booked by the end of last year. The final rooms were filled a few weeks ago.

He said room rates are higher than normal, but priced appropriately for a major citywide event like the Final Four.

The survey of downtown hotels by Meet Minneapolis shows the average rate is about $450 per night, with some hotels requiring a four-night minimum stay.

Montag said although nearly 100,000 visitors are expected, Final Four fans tend to be far less flush.

“The Super Bowl was very corporate driven. Final Four, because it is college, doesn’t have the same level of corporate sponsorship.”

Abigail Long, head of public relations at AirDNA, a national research company that tracks booking trends at Airbnb and, said that as of Wednesday, 1,253 properties had been booked for this Saturday night in Minneapolis, and 692 properties were still available. That puts occupancy in the city at only about 64 percent.

The Airbnb/HomeAway website shows that Minneapolis hosts are fetching the highest prices on Saturday, with the best-quality properties listed at an average $1,200. For medium-quality properties, the posted ask rate is $700, but the median booked rate is $200.

“This shows that although occupancy and demand is high for Saturday night, Airbnb/HomeAway hosts are leaving money on the table by overestimating the value of their property and charging far too much for stays this weekend — and many will most likely be left without a booking,” said Long.

In St. Paul, 303 properties were booked and 214 were still available with a median rate of $600 compared with a median booked rate at $145 on Saturday night.

Carol Liege, an experienced Airbnb host with a one-bedroom apartment in northeast Minneapolis, tripled her normal $56 nightly rate during the Super Bowl. But she decided not to set Final Four expectations too high.

Several months ago, before she had any indication of how strong demand might be, she got a reservation from a couple from Louisiana. They canceled, however, when their team lost. Even before she could reconsider raising the price, a man from Rochester snapped it up.

“I’m not one of the most commercially motivated hosts, I do this mainly to not be isolated during Minnesota winters,” she said. “But I think hosts in Minnesota are getting used to this.”

Jim Buchta has covered real estate for the Star Tribune for several years. He also has covered energy, small business, consumer affairs and travel.

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