Civic Center Executive Director uses $30 million expansion project to bring new wave of economic impact into the Mankato area.
The Verizon Wireless Center, located in the heart of downtown Mankato, is a thing of multi-faceted beauty. Built in 1995 for $23 million, it has blossomed into one of the very anchors of the city itself, more than repaying its initial costs thanks to the roughly $47 million in economic activity it generates each year. The way it drums up that business is dizzyingly diverse, from adrenaline-drenched hockey games to formal business conventions. The schedule is wonderfully disjointed, a little bit of everything and therefore surely something for everyone. While there may seem to be no rhyme or reason to a center that books pop superstars back-to-back with insurance conventions, the Verizon Wireless Center infuses all its activities with a sense of crazy energy and manages to mix them into something overwhelmingly successful—something that has been growing more successful with every year. If there’s one constant underlining the whole wonderful mess of activity, it’s that nothing stays constant: the center is continually growing, progressing, building and improving. In a word, it’s always changing.
It makes sense, then, that its executive director is the same way.
When Burt Lyman starts to tell you about his life, it can be exhausting to follow the myriad of changes he’s experienced. He’s owned his own business, worked as national marketing director for a multi-million dollar company, lived out of his suitcase promoting the Harlem Globetrotters and even tried his hand at telemarketing. He has an impressive energy, diving headfirst into every opportunity that proves worthwhile. And he believes in not only the importance of change but the necessity of it—of always looking for ways to do things bigger and better.
Now, he’s guiding the center through its biggest change yet—in the form of a $30 million expansion project that will fundamentally redefine its place in Mankato’s economy. But Lyman isn’t worried. He’s excited.
Tell me a little about your childhood.
I was born in Minneapolis and generally raised until about eight or ninth grade in the Maple Plain/Mound area of Minnesota, which is on the western side of Lake Minnetonka. I went to the local schools in Mound for the first several years of my education and then, in my sophomore year, I went to Shattuck-St. Mary’s, which is a preparatory school in Faribault.
What lessons did you learn from your parents?
One of the things I’m very grateful my dad taught me, right after I graduated college, was to save your money for retirement. I did, and that presented opportunities for me later because I wasn’t living hand to mouth, so I was able to take some risks that maybe I wouldn’t normally have taken because I had savings.
My parents also taught me to work hard, and that’s very important. And both my parents always said, “Do something that you love to do, and be the best you can.” And in this case, I really love what I do, and I do my best. I’m not the best, but I do my best.
Why did you switch from the local public schools to the private boarding school?
On my dad’s side, all his brothers went to the boarding school, and on my mom’s side, she went to the girl’s portion of the boarding school. It was inevitable that I would attend.
So what was that like for you? Which school system did you enjoy more?
I think at the time, I probably would have liked staying in the public school, because you get to go home and go out with your friends at night. But at the same time, I realized I was getting a much better education at the boarding school. One of the things they do there is ensure you’re doing the best you can. So say the best you can do is being a B student—they just make sure you’re getting B’s. If the best you can be is an A student, they make sure you achieve A’s.
They also instilled a good work ethic. You had to try hard. The class sizes were small—sometimes 6-8 people in a class. So there was a lot of attention given to you. And your day was very structured: you had to study during a certain time in the evening and then it was lights out. It had some real long-term life advantages.
Once you graduated from Shattuck-St. Mary’s in 1984, you attended the University of Minnesota to study economics and Latin American history. Why did you decide to major in economics?
I always liked economics. My dad was a stockbroker, and, like a lot of kids, you ask a lot of questions about what your dad did. We would talk about his job, and the Economist and the Wall Street Journal were always around the house. I wanted to be a banker.
What about that Latin American minor? That doesn’t really seem to connect.
I guess I’ve always been fascinated with Mexico and Latin American culture, but I can’t tell you why. I took Spanish as much as I could, all the way through college. I’d like to say I’m fluent, but I’m not. It’s all up there, but sometimes pulling it out there is tough. I travel to Mexico on vacation regularly, and practice up, and usually by day three I’ll dream in Spanish. It’s funny, because in my dreams, my Spanish is much better than in real life. Even my accents are better.
I secretly always desired at some point in my career to work down in Mexico. At one point, when I was out of college, I did interview with the president of HP Fuller Corp., and he had some jobs down there, but, because I wasn’t completely fluent, he wouldn’t send me down.
What did you do once you’d graduated?
Well, technically I graduated in 1992, but I finished all my coursework besides my senior thesis in 1989, which was when I started working. I went out and did find a job at a bank, Richfield Bank and Trust, but I didn’t realize that even with a good degree in economics from a school that’s known for economics, you start at the bottom. My first job was sitting in an office with about ten people looking at microfiche to look up data. Anybody who knows me knows I don’t even like to sit down, let alone do something very excruciatingly detailed. I remember within a couple hours, looking up at the clock, and I swear it was going backwards. I quickly realized that banking is very detail oriented. Even looking at the whole institution that I worked at for a grand total of one week, it just wasn’t for me.
You only stayed a week at your first job?
Give or take a few days… Prior to getting that job at the bank, I’d been calling various people around the Twin Cities to get informational interviews for a class, and a guy ended up calling me back on Wednesday, two days after I started at the bank. He happened to own the Ice Capades and Harlem Globetrotters. And even though I already had my job at that bank, I still agreed to meet with him, just on a whim.
So I went and saw him that weekend, and at the time, they had just had someone on their promotion team quit. By the time we’d finished talking, he asked, “Would you like to be a promoter?” I didn’t even know the job existed at the time. But I said yes. The following week, I drove up to Duluth, where the Ice Capades was preparing to launch their season, and I interviewed with their president. The next day, they called me and offered me a job.
So you went from banking to marketing. What was that job like?
They told me to pack two giant suitcases and plan on not coming home for at least six months. I assumed there was going to be apartments or something, but they said I was going to live on the road. So I packed my bags and flew out to Hollywood. I spent a period of time training at their corporate offices, and then I hit the road. I went everywhere from Orlando to Dallas to Toledo to upstate New York, all over the country. Literally, week-to-week, I’d go to these various places learning the job, and after I was trained, I became a promoter with them.
All that travel must have been difficult.
It was. I really enjoyed the job, but after about a year, not having a home base was really starting to get to me. And I happened to get a call from a company called Vee Corporation, which produces “Sesame Street Live.” At first, I thought it was one of my coworkers, just joking. It took the woman about four tries before I finally said, “You’re serious?” So I interviewed with a person while I was on the road, and ended up getting the job. They were based back in Minneapolis, which was great for me. So I still did the travel but I had an apartment to come home to. And the funniest part was, nobody forgot my name because I was Burt with Sesame Street.
You stayed with the Vee Corporation about a year and a half. What came next?
I received a call from a corporation named Ogden in 1992, and they were looking for a marketing director to help with their FargoDome project in North Dakota. That was a great learning experience. I worked 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week, for 7-8 months to get the building open. My job was to go out and sell sponsorship, bring entertainment into the facility, market that entertainment and do the public relations for the building. The building opened, and it did very well. So about five months later, I got a call from their corporate office in Rosemount, Illinois, and they asked me to be the national marketing manager for their facilities in the United States. And I took the job.
I’d travel around to the various facilities that Ogden managed, to work with their marketing directors. I was probably on a plane once a week. But being young and single, that’s not such a bad thing. Then an old coworker from my time at the Ice Capades called me and said he wanted to start a business, and he asked if I was interested in partnering with him. We founded Larson Lyman & Associates back in Minneapolis, and we were basically doing the same thing we’d always done: promoting family shows and sporting events, and working with facilities to help them maximize their ticket sales. It was just the two of us in the office, and my little brother, who was our intern.
What was it like running your own business instead of working for someone else?
When I first started, it was really scary. I left a pretty good paying job at a fairly young age to do it. At first it was hand to mouth, and that was tough; we learned a lot about cash flow and how a lot of people don’t like to pay on time. But we worked through it.
Eventually my business partner, who had a couple of children, really couldn’t justify it. He just wasn’t making enough money. But for one person, it was plenty of money to make a good living, so I ended up buying him out in 1996.
So what brought you to Mankato?
I received a call in April 1997 to come down here to work at what was then the Mankato Civic Center as a consultant for Compass Facility Management—now Venue Works. They needed help selling signage, sponsorships and suites. The person who managed the facility at the time left, and the management company asked if I wanted his job. I thought about it, because I had a business, but it wasn’t the kind of business that was going to grow by leaps and bounds. Many people think just because you have your own business, you’re going to be rich, but it doesn’t work that way. And I was getting a little sick and tired of chasing people and collecting money, so it worked out nicely. At first, I did both, but it wasn’t very long before my old business dissipated and went away, because the job here was all encompassing and needed my full attention.
Eventually, that management company left the facility, and I stayed. I really quite honestly didn’t think I’d be here more than a couple of years, but I love Minnesota and I love Mankato. I’m very fortunate because I have a great team of people I work with on many different levels, and they are all amazing. The operation here is not about me, it’s about a team effort.
So how exactly do you fit in with the city?
Instead of coming on as a city employee, I came on as an independent contractor, more or less. There are advantages to that, particularly when it comes to sales. It allows me to have some flexibility that I wouldn’t otherwise have as a city employee.
I’ve heard that it can be very difficult working in the sales business.
That’s a really key point. If I believe in what I’m selling, it isn’t sales anymore. What I want to do is create a situation where the sale makes sense for the business and for us. It’s not like the movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” when you’re on the phone cold calling. I’ve found over the years that if it’s not the right fit, then it’s not good for anybody.
For example, my policy with respect to suites is, if someone purchases a suite and it doesn’t work out for them, I want to know. Even though contractually they might be bound for five years, it doesn’t make sense to have somebody in a suite who’s unhappy. So we’ll work to secure another sponsor who is interested in the suite and might be a better fit. I think it’s just fitting the two pieces of the puzzle together.
Have you ever done cold calling?
I had a lot of odd jobs during college, and I did have a telemarketing job. I was soliciting companies for quotes on their insurance. During your first three calls, you’re shaking and you don’t know what to say, but of course, after a couple of weeks, it’s easy.
Did you have any jobs before that, like in high school?
I always liked to work, even as a little kid. My first job was working for a veterinarian, and I learned a lot. Besides that, I mowed yards, I caddied, I valet parked… I always had a job. I think in college, I always had at least two jobs at the same time.
I wasn’t any different than any of my other Chi Psi fraternity brothers. Everybody seemed to work during college—you had to. If I had never had a job and walked into my first job, I would have been worthless, not understanding things like showing up on time and doing tasks even if I didn’t enjoy them. Even today, there are things in my job that I really enjoy, and things that I don’t. But you get to do them both, and you learn that.
What are some of those things in your current job you don’t enjoy?
(Laughs) Now you’re really going to get me in trouble here. I think sometimes, the politics of this job can be a bit frustrating. But that comes with the territory. I talk to managers all over the country, and we’ll talk about the political situations, because that’s usually one of the more difficult components of the job. I will say, all that being said, Mankato’s an extremely well run city. I report to the city manager, Pat Hentges, and I’ve really enjoyed a good relationship with Pat. He’s been there since I started, and he has done wonderful things for this community.
There are many communities out there that really don’t allow the staff members at a particular facility to maximize its economic impact because of unnecessary politics. That environment does not exist here in Mankato. You start off by being Minnesotans, which means you’ve got a step up on a lot of other states; people from our area are generally very practical and reasonable.
What about some of the good parts of your job?
The good stuff is working with the team of individuals I work with. It’s fun to be part of it. It’s fun to see new people come in and bring new ideas. I really enjoy the staff, I enjoy the community, and it’s so interesting watching Mankato grow from what it was 17 years ago, when I came to the civic center, into what it is now. It’s remarkable, and I feel in a very small way that I’ve been a part of that.
Tell me a little about the changes you’ve noticed in Mankato.
There’s always something new. I remember when I first came downtown, the mall was empty. There wasn’t all the activity that’s going on now. As general rule, if you don’t have a healthy downtown, you’re not going to have a healthy community. I think Mankato has done a very good job of creating a vibrant downtown, and it takes a lot of volunteer work by a lot of people to make that happen. I just look forward to the next five years, to see what lies ahead.
There are a lot of communities that aren’t as successful as Mankato. This community is fortunate because there is good leadership with respect to the city council, the city manager and the deputy city manager. Additionally, in the Mankato area, there are a lot of very engaged business leaders that stay engaged not only with respect to financial commitments, but with their time and talents. They use their knowledge base to make this community better. When it comes to our air show in June, roughly 75 percent of it is produced by volunteers. I think that says a lot about Mankato.
So what does your job entail?
Kathy Volk might be able to answer that better than anyone; she has been around a couple of months longer than I and makes sure I’m doing what I should be doing. But I feel one of the most important aspects of my job is to clear the way for the rest of the team, so they are able to successfully do their jobs. The staff here, they work very, very hard, and they all know what their roles and responsibilities are. Most of them here are here many, many hours a week, sometimes working overnight and even 24 hours straight. Obviously in this business, one works a lot of weekends, too. I am fortunate in that everybody here is extremely dedicated. We have an unwritten policy that I don’t tell people when they have to be here. They know. Many times, I find myself telling them to go home and spend some time with their families.
We have a budget to balance, I review contracts, sell suites, and sell sponsorship. Right now, one of the biggest parts of my job is to sell sponsorship for the upcoming air show. We also oversee Vetter Stone Amphitheater in Riverfront Park, making sure it is ready for summer, and the team is in the midst of the event center expansion being headed up by our operations manager, Steve Conover. That, in itself, is a 40-hour-a-week job, but Steve takes everything in stride and manages to look after the rest of the building besides.
There is a lot of activity around here: conventions, meetings, banquets, MSU Mavericks hockey. We try to keep the center as busy as it can be, because if it’s busy, it’s generating economic impact, filling the City Center bars and restaurants and area hotels. I see the civic center as one of the engines that drive economic impact.
But at the same time, while staying as busy as we can be, we have to make sure to produce events successfully. We don’t want to fall down on events. If we’re doing a big concert, we want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row, because if there’s a problem, it could be a catastrophe for the facility, not only locally but nationally. That’s why this last Elton John concert (in 2012) was such a big deal for us, because we were able to successfully pull off a major, worldwide-recognized artist, sell out in a number of minutes, and then successfully produce the show.
Elton John was one of the biggest names in music—if not the biggest name—you’ve ever hosted at your facility. How did that affect your reach moving forward?
It showed the rest of the entertainment industry that Mankato, even though it’s a smaller community, can host an artist of that magnitude, as well as sell the number of tickets it did as fast as it did and at a fairly high ticket price as well. And hats off to Eric Jones, who worked doggedly with the promoter for years to route Elton John through Mankato. That helped us turn the corner here; we’re not going to have Elton Johns every year, but Mankato is getting looked at by bigger artists who wouldn’t have looked at us before.
The venue’s image and reputation in terms of outside Mankato, in terms of the music and entertainment industry, is important to preserve, because if you don’t have a good reputation, artists are not going to play here—particularly because we’re not a must-play market. Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles—those are must-play markets. We’re what I call a tertiary market. We have to go communicate to these promoters and agents that we are a viable entity and that they can successfully produce a show here. With Elton John, we showed them that we can do it, we can take a top tier worldwide act, produce it, sell tickets and have the artists, producers and agents make money.
You say you try to keep the center as busy as possible. How many events did you host there last year?
We had more than 700 events last year, from meetings of 10 people to MSU hockey games.
In 2013, the center hit the $1 million mark in concession sales for the first time. Add in all these shows, and I’d think you’re making great profits.
Actually, in reality, public assembly facilities like the civic center are break-even propositions. That’s not to imply we don’t want to make money. However, these facilities are designed to generate economic impact. In general, if public assembly facilities made a lot of money, then private business would build them. We strive to maximize our revenues and minimize our expenses, but these are very expensive facilities to operate. It takes a lot of work and labor to keep the people coming through with conventions, meetings, sporting events and concerts. And there is a lot of competition out there.
Mary Brown, who retired late last year, did a great job of managing the hospitality side of the civic center and making sure that we didn’t run out of beer or food. She had a tremendous rapport with vendors and customers alike, and even developed relationships with many clients who return year after year. Brian Sather, the new kid on the block, brings some new ideas and product offerings to the table and will continue to provide the same great hospitality, along with keeping an eye on the bottom line.
But if you want to look at the profitability of the Greater Mankato area, we’re doing great. The new restaurants, bars and hotels aren’t exclusively because of the civic center, by any means, but we do play a role in generating business downtown. The civic center may not be a profit center, but we position others to make money and grow their businesses and start new businesses.
There is absolutely no doubt that this center contributed to the vitality of downtown and maybe encouraged some people to plant themselves in the downtown area.
I’ve heard, though, that some businesses are expressing concern with you offering more food at your concession stands once you expand. That could hurt downtown businesses, couldn’t it?
We look at it like this: “Let’s just make the pie bigger.” There isn’t a finite amount of business that Mankato can do before businesses cut into each other. If we can get patrons here a little earlier to have a sandwich or soda, that’s better for our bottom line. I think it’s important to remind people that if this facility, in terms of concessions, can bring more people into the downtown area, then they’re much more likely to visit an establishment in the community before or after.
In 2006, the MSU Mavericks had a home game against the Gophers but decided to play at the Xcel Energy Center instead. The media reported you saying you thought the center probably lost about $30,000 because of that decision. Looking back, what are your thoughts?
The building took a financial hit because of that choice. It was a decision that MSU made, and they’re certainly within their right to do so. They may have done it for financial purposes, and I’m not quite sure how it worked out for them.
Having said that, I think, if this is going to be your home ice, and if this is where the majority of your fan base is, it’s important that you play your home games on your home ice and not in the metro area, or any other area for that matter. I think in the future, that probably won’t happen again, but that’s a decision that MSU would have to make.
Visit Mankato recently estimated that the civic center sees more than $3.5 million in lost business annually because of the limitations of the current facility.
Yes, there’s no doubt that we lose conventions because of the space issues. If you have a convention on a particular week or weekend, you can’t have two. With the size of this expansion, it is feasible that you could have two smaller conventions at the same time or, more importantly, one larger convention, which currently we are not able to successfully host. So that expands our reach, in terms of what kinds of conventions we can go after. Because we have this additional space, we have additional room to host larger banquets, business meetings, conventions, flat shows, trade shows and concerts.
Will the expansion lead to more jobs?
Definitely, though it will probably be more on a part-time basis. We’re event-driven, so we’re not going to have people on the clock when there are no events scheduled. In terms of full time, my guess is you may see one or two full-time positions added, but it will depend on how business is going. If we do add full-time positions, we’re going to do it cautiously.
What do you think will be the greatest disruption during the upcoming construction?
I’d say probably the most disruptive component of the project will be when they drive the pilings into the ground. Obviously when they drive the pilings, you’re going to feel it. We’re still going to be hosting events inside this facility, so we’re definitely going to be working with the contractor to reduce the impact on our clients inside. I would submit that if you’re a restaurant, you may see increased activity because there will be a lot of construction workers down here and they need to eat lunch.
There will be some impact and it will cause some inconvenience for some, but I’d like to think that after the project is done and we’re up and running, those who have been inconvenienced will benefit from the expansion when it’s completed and operating. It’s like any construction project; it’s going to cause some inconvenience, but hopefully the greater good is achieved by expanding the facility. I believe that.
Once the expansion is complete and you can attract more events, do you think downtown will have a problem with more congestion?
If we’re able to keep the event center as active as we’d like to see it, you may see some congestion downtown. But do you choose not to host a Viking’s game because there’s going to be a lot of traffic in downtown Minneapolis? No. I think that’s a growing pain. And it’s a positive sign.
There’s already a lot of construction going on in Mankato. Does this affect the civic center project?
Because of all the other construction, the price for raw materials is quite high, especially with Minnesota’s booming economy. Steel, concrete and other construction supplies for this facility are selling at a premium, and that’s a concern. We want to make sure that the quotes come back within our budgetary constraints. The city hired Mortenson Construction because they have a lot of experience with these types of facilities, and it was the right decision.
I understand you’re also doing some work at Vetter Stone Amphitheater.
Last year, we put in a concrete pad with a roof over it, where we could vend our food and beverages. The parks department also worked on the turf and irrigation, because obviously you don’t want a mud pit out there. Now, we will be adding signage and finding different ways to vend our concessions.
Even with the amphitheater, this facility, the air show, and RibFest, every year the staff still tries to come at it with, “What can we improve? What didn’t work last time and why didn’t it work?” We regularly reevaluate all of the events we produce to see if we can make changes to make things better.
Are there things you’ve tried over the years at these events that haven’t worked?
Oh, yeah… (laughs) One of the things at RibFest that comes to mind was how we tried to create a more kid-friendly environment for young children, with rides and a climbing wall. That’s not what RibFest is. Candidly, RibFest is ribs, music, beverages, and catching up with your friends. WinterFest and arena football were a couple of projects that really didn’t go over well at all, either.
How has the park evolved over the years?
When the park opened in 2010, we thought we’d maybe do some smaller concerts in the amphitheater, but it evolved into doing a lot of shows. When RibFest moved to the park, we were very worried, because many times, when you move the location of a festival, you kill it. But RibFest grew, and it grew even faster. Usually when you get to 18 years, like with RibFest, the event will start to wane, get old, and so far we haven’t seen that with RibFest. Much of that can be attributed to the civic center team. Each year, everybody tries to make it bigger and better, adding acts and attractions that people wouldn’t be able to see at other places at a discounted price. RibFest has grown from a $75,000 event that brought in about 7,000 people the first year to a $270,000 event that attracted 25,000 people in 2014.
I heard that the amphitheater is booked for summer music events long before summer comes around, and you actually have to turn acts away. How do you plan your season?
We don’t schedule as many shows at the park as we could. At some point, one would start cannibalizing oneself. If you have a show every night, you might like the music for every single show, but you’re not going to attend every night. So we’re being very strategic about how we’re booking the amphitheater this year because we want to A) make sure the events we have out there make money and B) figure out what works well out there. Eric Jones has been doing a great job of scheduling events at the park and has an uncanny sense of what works well and what doesn’t. Certainly in this community, country music sells very well. I wouldn’t say you can’t lose on country music, but Mankato is known nationally for being a very good community to host country music events. But what doesn’t work well is your sort of outside-the-lines type of music. We’re all getting a little bit better about figuring out what’s going to work and what isn’t.
This year will be the Verizon Wireless Center’s 20th anniversary. Are you doing anything to commemorate it?
We’re making a video, but we might not have a big event because of all the focus that’s on the expansion project. But that’s okay. We’re still going strong and we hope, with the expansion, to be even busier, bigger and better.
A Project With A Long History
It’s been a long road when it comes to the Verizon Wireless Center’s $30.5 million expansion project.
The city of Mankato lobbied the state legislature for years before the project was finally put on Minnesota’s bonding bill in 2014 and approved—authorizing $14.5 million in state money for the project. The rest of the project will be funded by Mankato, through a local option sales tax.
The first part of the project revolved around the demolition of the 20,000-square foot former U.S. Bank Building on Second Street. While Mankato officials first considered remodeling the building, constructed in the 1970s, for convention center space, they decided it didn’t make economic sense after a building analysis was completed, since it would have taken about $4 million to renovate. The demolition, which occurred late last year, cost about $300,000.
The next part of the project includes constructing new locker rooms, updating the hockey facilities (to the tune of $6 million), and adding offices for coaches. While the civic center is already home to the MSU Mavericks men’s hockey team, these changes will allow the women’s team to move from All Seasons Arena to the center as well, for both practices and games.
In addition, the project will also expand the center’s concession stands and add a performing arts center that can seat 2,100-3,000 people.
This expansion will allow the civic center, which can currently host conventions of around 600 people, to host events for 1,000-1,200 participants. The project will be completed by June or August 2016.
Getting to know you: Burt Lyman
Family: wife Star, cat Dexter
Education: University of Minnesota,
industry-related course work at Cornell University
Favorite subject in school: Economics
Hobbies: traveling the world, running, golf, skiing
Lives: on Lake Washington
Most valued tangible possession: “My books. I collect leather-bound books, especially the classics. My favorite author is John Steinbeck. He doesn’t use big words or fancy words, but he’s able to communicate effectively in plain language. I’ve read everything he’s written, probably two or three times over.”
Most valuable intangible possession: “My family—and that includes my cat.”
If you didn’t have this job? “I’d go work somewhere in Latin America… if my wife would agree.”
The Minnesota Air Spectacular
Since the year it was first organized, the Minnesota Air Spectacular has quickly become one of the civic center’s most popular events. The $750,000 event is organized by several partners, including the civic center, the department of public safety, the parks department, Blue Earth County, MN State Patrol, other representatives from the city of Mankato, the Mankato Regional Airport Commission, local businesses and local volunteers.
For the most recent show, in 2012, more than 35,000 people (and 1,000 volunteers) attended the event, which featured six fighter jets from the Blue Angels as the headlining act. That show raised about $25,000 for local charities and generated an estimated $7.4 million of economic impact on the area.
Lyman explained that when it comes to planning air shows, the first step is even being selected by the military to host one of its performance teams, such as the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds, which most recently came to Mankato in 2003. The military group performs for free, but the city organizers need to prove they’re able to put on one spectacular show. Thanks to the success of the 2012 event, Mankato was able to win the right to host the Thunderbirds in 2015.
Besides the Thunderbirds, this year’s show also features the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, aerobic flyers Team Oracle and John Klatt, comedic pilot Kent Pietsch, and wingwalker Tony Kazian (flying with Dave Dacy).
Lyman said this year’s show is particularly exciting because it’s the first time the Thunderbirds will be able to land at the Mankato Regional Airport. When they performed in 2003, the airport’s runway wasn’t long enough for them to land, so instead they flew out of the Minneapolis airport, performed the show, and returned to the Twin Cities without ever touching down on the ground. However, the Mankato Regional Airport recently extended its runway, giving the jets the ability to land. “If you’ve ever been to an air show, some of the greatest drama is watching the pilots get into their planes, turn on those jet engines and taxi down the runway,” Lyman said. “It makes a big difference in the quality of the air show.”
He said he hopes the event draws crowds of 45,000 to 50,000 people this year, and the organizers are working hard to expand their marketing beyond the Mankato area. “I think the biggest picture here is to remind the people of Minnesota that Mankato is here,” he said. “There isn’t a better way to showcase your community than to get people to visit. The air show is the biggest thing we do, it’s the most difficult, and it’s the most rewarding.” The show runs June 27-28 at the Mankato Regional Airport.
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