BY LEE EGERSTROM
While Native artists, retailers and food companies all try to hitch a ride with Santa Claus this time of year, an expanded St. Paul Winter Carnival and the National Football League’s Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis is extending the holiday entertainment and gift buying season well into the new year.
Large tribal hotel and entertainment businesses operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC), Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC) and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe are certain to intercept traffic coming to the Twin Cities for the Super Bowl and Winter Carnival.
Small shopkeepers and the artists and food manufacturers that supply them may also benefit from the longer season. Tourists to the Twin Cities metro area explore cultural attractions and buy gifts as keepsakes or for families and friends back home.
The Winter Carnival runs from Jan. 25 through Feb. 10 – seven days longer than normal. The Super Bowl, mean-while, is Feb. 4 and has a good week of activities wrapped around the game.
Christmas holidays and St. Paul Winter Carnival offer annual opportunities for Native entrepreneurs and their retailers. Hosting a Super Bowl is a rarity, and not easy for Native groups to connect with officially, said Joanne Whiterabbit, executive director of the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce.
The NFL doesn’t allow linkages with gaming operations, she said. That rules out direct involvement with nearby casino ventures. And officially sponsoring events for the Super Bowl is too costly for small business operators, she added.
At the same time, Native ventures are clearly in the right place at the right time as larger than normal wintertime visitors come to the metro area and may visit other parts of Minnesota while here.
The Mille Lacs Band owns and operates two large hotels accounting for more than half the hotel rooms in St. Paul, with about 700 rooms. It also has a hotel in St. Louis Park, on the west side of Minneapolis. Meanwhile, both the Shakopee Mdewakanton and Prairie Island hospitality enterprises are completing hotel expansions this month in time for Winter Carnival and Super Bowl visitors.
Prairie Island has a ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled for Dec. 5 and will be opening its expanded Treasure Island Resort and Casino hotel at Welch in time for Christmas, New Year’s, Winter Carnival and Super Bowl guests.
Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Treasure Island, said the expansion will add 308 rooms, giving the hotel 788 total rooms. That will make it the second largest hotel in Minnesota, behind the downtown Minneapolis Hilton with its 821 rooms.
Treasure Island Resort and Casino will also have a large presence at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, Smith said. It is sponsoring the three main entrances to Rice Park where entertainment is offered and where the ice sculpture competition is housed. Treasure Island is also sponsoring a sculpture and will offer a prize to encourage visitors and families to post photos with the sculpture on social media.
SMSC’s Mystic Lake Casino Hotel at Prior Lake is also undergoing a major expansion and is on schedule for a Jan. 1 opening. That $90 million project is adding 180 rooms, bringing the hotel’s total up to 766 rooms, or nearly the size of Treasure Island and the Minneapolis Hilton hotels.
Johnny Mackin, director of brand marketing for Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, said there isn’t any doubt that major events spill over and generate business within the broader community. “We are booked for the Super Bowl,” he said.
Families do gather at the resort and hotel for Thanksgiving, during the Christmas holidays, for New Year’s celebrations and whenever else the resort has major entertainment. “We are the full service resort closest to the Twin Cities, and that helps a lot,” Mackin said.
Entertainment is clearly a Mystic Lake attraction during the Super Bowl week. New York-based Nomadic Entertainment Group is hosting a pop-up concert venue at the Mystic Lake complex, as it has done at previous Super Bowls and major sporting events.
At the time of this writing, the Club Nomadic venue had announced that musical groups The Chainsmokers had been booked for Feb. 1, and Florida Georgia Line was scheduled for Feb. 3. Two more groups or performers were to be announced in early December.
Mackin’s point about the spillover, or “multiplier effect” of major events, reached out to the Upper Sioux Community (Pezihutazizi Oyate) at Granite Falls in mid-November. The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee awarded the tribe $100,000 from its Super Bowl Legacy Fund to support the community’s Zani Woyute healthy food initiative.
Some of the spillover benefits will also reach down to small business operators when tourists and the sports and music fans do a little shopping.
No single data source exists identifying retailers or others offering Native arts, crafts and food items suitable as gifts. Some of the larger stores and entrepreneurs, however, have helpful websites and do offer products online. Others, like Sandra Graves’ Stormcloud Trading Co. in St. Paul, have “one-of-a-kind” items that aren’t feasible to offer with online marketing, she said.
For one of a kind, hand-made crafts from local Native artist, there will be several craft fairs in December where shoppers can purchase their holiday gifts. The 2017 Holiday Art Market at the All Nations Church holds an annual arts and crafts fair. This year it will be on: Dec. 9th from 10 am to 4pm; Dec. 10th from 1 to 4pm; Dec. 16th from 10am to 4pm; and Dec. 17th from 1 to 4pm. All Nations Church is located at 1515 E 23rd Street in Minneapolis.
The Almost Winter Art Market will offer a collective of creatives with quilts, jelly and jam, jewelry, prints and gifts. Dates for this event are: Dec. 2nd from 10am to 4pm at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, 1530 East Franklin Ave, Minneapolis; Dec. 9th from 10am to 4pm at the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Bldg., 1404 East Franklin Ave, Minneapolis; and Dec. 16th from 10am to 4pm at Interfaith Action, 1671 Summit Ave, St Paul.
The above chart is a partial list of retail locations and websites featuring Native arts, crafts, foods and other products that might help you with holiday gift selections.