Since its opening in April, the Minnesota Twins organization has proclaimed that its new downtown Minneapolis stadium is “uniquely Minnesotan in all respects.” Many of the “local favorites” among the venues and concessions there are named for local downtown establishments and former Twins players such as Tony Oliva.
However, the Twins have confirmed the MSR‘s determination that no products offered in the new stadium or businesses operating there are provided or owned exclusively or primarily by Blacks or other persons of color. The Twins hired Delaware North Companies Sportservice, a Buffalo, NY company that provides concession and merchandising services for many pro teams around the country, to do the same in the Minneapolis ballpark.
The MSR recently asked Twins President Dave St. Peter to respond to several questions related to why there are no businesses of color, and specifically no Black businesses, represented among the Target Field concessions and products. We asked, for example, how the organization solicited the exclusively White-owned companies doing business at the ballpark and the products being sold there.
In a written response, St. Peter explained that hundreds of businesses and vendors sought to be part of the new ballpark. He said most either offered redundant products or were unable to meet the requirements necessary to service fans for 81 home games.
Were any special measures taken to recruit businesses owned by Blacks and other people of color? According to St. Peter, prospective food vendors were not asked to identify their minority status during the review process.
Were there any requirements that might have excluded businesses of color from sharing the revenue opportunities at the stadium? St. Peter said there are no requirements that would preclude African American-owned and operated businesses from participation. He said inquires from Black businesses that might enhance stadium concessions are “welcome.”
According to St. Peter, the Twins spent $600,000 in 2009 with minority- and women-owned companies (MBWEs) and expect to spend over $1 million in 2010.
“I’ve had several conversations with the Twins,” said Ken Davis Enterprises owner Barbara Davis, whose company sells barbeque products. “I think they are doing a really good job of reaching out to the community.”
“Our organization is as accessible as it has ever been – frankly, more accessible throughout all communities, and certainly including minority communities,” said St. Peter in a phone interview last week. “We are going to continue to approach this from a high level of diligence and commitment, [but] we have a lot of work to do.”
While experts predicted that the new Twins stadium would be an economic boom to downtown, it’s less clear what benefits it may bring to North Minneapolis, which is just over the bridge. Thus far, there has been no apparent economic return to the nearby Black community from the new ballpark.
Sarita Turner, until recently head of the West Broadway Business Coalition, said last week that the Twins “have not reached out to us” and suggested that City officials “help the North Side to become an attractive opportunity for those folk who frequent the Twins stadium…to market the North Side as a viable place to go and that it is safe.”
Bishop Richard Howell, whose Shiloh Temple church is also on West Broadway, said that the stadium “has given a boost to downtown, but the other side of the area has been overlooked. I think more needs to be done to focus on how the stadium possibly can impact our neighborhood.”
“The problem is that money that goes into stadiums does not reproduce itself outside of stadiums,” argues Dave Zirin, who recently published his fourth book, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love. “The Twins stadium is really a magnet for people and for money [only] 81 days out of a 365-day year. The money that it does bring into that area [where the stadium is located] goes into the service industry…goes into restaurants and bars. It doesn’t help the African American community, working-class communities, or communities that are economically disadvantaged.”
“We just opened this place in April, and we are going to be here for 30 years,” surmised Twins Public Affairs Executive Director Kevin Smith. “You are going to see things different here in 2011 than what you saw in 2010, because we need to keep the place fresh.” He added that Black businesses are welcome at the Twins ballpark “if it can be a value to our fans and to us. It wasn’t what we did not do, but what can we do now.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of work with the Black community,” said Chris Iles, Twins’ corporate communications manager. Both he and St. Peter referred to a November 2009 “Small Business Advocate of the Year” award given to the Twins by the Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC).
“The first corporation that was willing to partner with us was the Minnesota Twins,” said MBCC President Lea Hargett when asked about the award. “We have begun to start cultivating a relationship with the Twins.”
Thus far, however, only a couple of things have resulted from the Twins-MBCC relationship. One was a one-time use of a stadium suite for a game in June. “We allowed our members to invite their business customers as well as their prospects to an evening baseball game,” recalled Hargett.
The MBCC also co-sponsored with the Twins a youth program at a Black baseball exhibit at the Ramsey County Historical Society in April. “The Twins called and asked if the Black Chamber would co-sponsor it,” said Hargett. “We talked about this being an opportunity for them to do business with a Black vendor.”
Associates by Design, owned by Marie Lewis, who is Black, designed the pamphlets for the program. She said that the MBCC called her about the job: “I didn’t directly solicit any business with the Twins. I did not seek a relationship with them.”
There are between 5,000 and 6,000 Black businesses in Minnesota, but according to Hargett only 30 of them are MBCC members. “The Chamber’s goal is to provide access to our [member] businesses to do business,” she explained. “We cannot transact business for them or do anything beyond making the introduction.” When asked if she believes her organization’s relationship with the Twins is going as she originally hoped, she said, “Yes, at this point I do.”
“I strongly believe in economic development,” said Twins Emerging Markets Manager Miguel Ramos. “That’s why we are working together with the Chamber.”
Sharon El-Amin of El-Amin Fish House, located on West Broadway in North Minneapolis, told the MSR that her business is not an MBCC member. She said that she would have loved the opportunity to sell food at the Twins stadium, but she never knew about the bid process.
“That would have been something to consider, to try to see how we could have made it happen,” El-Amin reflected.
The only current economic opportunities for people of color inside the new ballpark appear to be jobs as concession workers, servers and clean-up personnel at Twins games. “These are exactly the kind of jobs that don’t create stable communities and stable families,” Zirin points out. “They create low-income jobs; jobs that are dependent on tips; jobs that don’t pay enough or really provide for families. It’s not full-time work.”
Do the Twins have an obligation to help promote economic development in the Black community, especially since their new stadium is funded with a Hennepin County tax that falls disproportionately on Blacks and other people of color? “With the [Twins stadium] being so close to [the Black community], hopefully it will have a wonderful [economic] effect,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig responded when asked this question during his visit to the new ballpark in April. “I don’t call it an obligation – it is something we want to do.”
“Any business should be obligated to help this community,” Bishop Howell replied to the same question. “Even though [the Twins] are doing wonderful things, it is not really directly answering economic progress.”
“We have to start asking these questions, [because] I think the future of urban America depends on us asking these questions,” believes Zirin.
“We are doing many things,” said Ramos. “Can we do better? Should we do more? Oh, yes. We are not there yet.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.