Friday, November 28, 2014
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Hockey returns to the "state of hockey"

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Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Minnesota Wild passes the puck against the Buffalo Sabres during the NHL preseason game last month at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by David Sherman/Getty Images )
The Minnesota Wild starts its regular season on Wednesday with a game against Calgary. The team has been absent from St. Paul for the past 18 months. The hockey season was cancelled last year because of a contract dispute between NHL players and owners. But now the team is back, and the Wild organization is celebrating. It's not just the business of hockey that's back. St. Paul restaurant and bar owners have something to celebrate too.

St. Paul, Minn. — Many, if not most, of the bars and restaurants along West 7th Street live or die by the Wild. No hockey last season meant fewer customers, and a thinner bottom line.

Peter Ceruzzi has a name for the hockey season that never was: "Devastating."

Ceruzzi manages Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub a couple of blocks away from the Xcel Energy Center.

"We're a hockey bar," he says. "Sixty percent of our business went away. And that's devastating in a small place like this."

Ceruzzi says the Hockey City Pub didn't make any money last year, and like many businesses in the area, Ceruzzi had to lay off employees. But the call of the Wild's upcoming season is already starting to bump up business at Hockey City.

Same thing's happening up the street at The Liffey Irish Pub. Manager Valid Serhan says business has been good with the few Wild exhibition games. Serhan expects to double his money during the Wild's full season of 44 home games.

"I think it's absolutely great that they're coming back and they came to an agreement," he says. "It's good for our pub, our restaurant, it's good for the staff, helps us keep our team on. It's very good for the economy of St. Paul, especially West 7th Street."

It seems like the whole city of St. Paul is making merry over the Wild's return.

There are banners welcoming hockey back to town, the St. Paul area chamber of commerce has a big display in their lobby promoting the Wild.

Team owners are throwing a breakfast for fans on game day. Later, there'll a big block party on West 7th Street to celebrate the first game of the regular season.

Despite the lockout last season, fans don't seem to be holding a grudge. The Wild's Wayne Petersen says 95 percent of former season ticket holders are back, that's 16,500 people with season tickets.

"We have sold out every single game we've every played in the Xcel Energy Center," he says. "And our goal again is to sell out every game. So, obviously, if we succeed at that I think the businesses around the arena and those on Grand Avenue and beyond will benefit from that just by having 18,000-plus fans in downtown St. Paul on 44 nights."

The economic impact of the Wild cannot be overstated, according to the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber's Ellen Watters says doing the math on Wild games means big money for St. Paul. Forty-four games, at an average of $45 per ticket. Then, add $10 for food and drinks or momentos, and that adds up to the Wild generating an estimated $3 million in state sales-tax receipts. $217,000 of that goes to the city of St. Paul.

Watters says Wild games bring in more than just money. Games bring people -- and not just for a night. Residential development in downtown St. Paul is up. Watters says businesses want to expand and add more employees. She says it's an economic development cycle that starts with the Wild.

"It has done a lot to enhance the image of St. Paul, to revitalize downtown, to give it a sense of energy and that's been very important," she says. "So there is this kind of psychic benefit in addition to the dollars and cents."

That psychic benefit will spill over onto the street this week, as the Wild starts their season against the Calgary Flames.

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