Bradley's without Vikings camp

Bradley’s owner Kathy Depuydt and her son Bradley, who manages the Stadium Road bar and restaurant, have noticed the absence of people coming to Mankato for Minnesota Vikings training camp. Photo by Pat Christman

MANKATO — It's the slow time of year for businesses next to the Minnesota State University campus.

"It's quiet in the summer. People are at the lake, on vacation," said Kathy Depuydt, owner of Bradley's on Stadium.

The tranquility around the campus the next few weeks is a stark reminder for many businesses about what they are losing — an estimated $5 million in revenue generated each year when the Minnesota Vikings held training camp here. Beginning this year, the team is holding its camp at its new headquarters in Eagan, ending a 52-year tradition with Mankato.

"It was a great boost. When the Vikings were in town, it was double or triple what we would normally make," said Depuydt, who operates the bar and restaurant with her son Bradley.

"People would go to the morning training and then come over and eat, then go to the afternoon camp and then come back in the evening.

"The players loved coming here because it was a chill atmosphere and people wouldn't bother them. Adrian Peterson would come in and play pool with anyone."

While she misses the extra business and loved the status the camp gave the city, there's one thing she doesn't miss about the end of camps being held in Mankato.

"I do have to say it was stressful."

Student jobs

David Cowan, director of facilities management at MSU, has been at the university since 1970, just about as long as the team held camp here. Cowan said the end of camp means a financial loss for his department and the end of good temporary jobs for some MSU students.

"We will miss the Vikings. Last year we parked 9,500 cars at $10 a day, so we did make a little money from all those Vikings fans coming in."

The money also allowed Cowan to hire about a dozen students, mostly international students who stayed on campus over the summer. Some collected parking fees but more were dispatched around the area to control traffic and protect pedestrians.

"We sprinkled students all over the place. We kept the pedestrians from overwhelming bicycle paths and Vikings' corridors. The students made good money."

MSU started charging for parking in the early 2000s after the city, MSU and others spearheaded an effort to beef up the training camp experience by adding the Vikings Village, VIP areas and other events. The parking fees started lower and brought in about $30,000 a year, peaking at $95,000 last year.

Receipts down

At the AmericInn Hotel near campus, manager Ashley Sprenger sees the impact of not having camp.

"We're still busy but it has made an impact. People used to book rooms as soon as they could when they knew when the schedule for camp was. A lot booked a year ahead of time just guessing at the dates," Sprenger said. "We would be pretty booked for two weeks or more."

Jake's Stadium Pizza, its walls lined with decades of Vikings memorabilia, including pizza paddles signed by players and coaches over the decades, was a hub of activity during training camps.

"It's going to affect us. We had about $10,000 a week more in sales because they were here," said owner Wally Boyer.

"What we'll miss the most is the notoriety. This was the place the Vikings would hang out."

Boyer said he feels more sorry for some of the regular camp vendors, such as sports card dealers, who have no way to replace the lost businesses of training camp.

While his sales were up during camp, so was his overhead.

"Now we don't have to staff as much," Boyer said. "And now family can take vacation this time of year, which we couldn't do before."

The Person family of food and bar businesses is taking a significant hit by the loss of camp. In Mankato and North Mankato they own Tav on the Ave, Number 4, Dino's Pizzeria, Flask, and Absolute Catering.

"Normally this time of year we'd be gearing up for probably our busiest month of the year," Patrick Person said.

"Now we're taking vacations and things. You have to move on. There's nothing you can do about it."

Of their bars and restaurants, Tav had the biggest boost during camp.

"They were packed. We had contracts with Vikings, so we could do a lot of advertising. And we've been here 30 years and have been the one stable force in training camp, so Vikings fans knew the Tav very well."

But the biggest financial hit comes from all the catering business they did with the Vikings.

"We were very involved up at training camp, so we're missing that. We catered for the team, team snacks every night, beer at the stadium."

Seeking a replacement

Anna Thill, president of Visit Mankato, knows businesses and many residents would like to see some annual event that could help replace the void left by losing training camp.

"There's been a lot of exploration. It's on the top of everybody's mind. But it takes a year or two to get something on that scale that could be a game changer for the community," Thill said.

"We're definitely looking at how to replace that $5 million. Nothing has been developed definitively enough yet to go public with."

While the camp is gone, she thinks its long history provides benefits that will last into the future.

"When they were here for 52 years, they brought so many people to the community and introduced them to Mankato. We hope people may have fallen in love with our trails system or parks or something else. We hope people are still making a trip to Mankato because of camp."

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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