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MLB All-Star Game 'clean zones' draw ACLU lawsuit

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Target Field
Target Field will host the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

The City of Minneapolis faces a lawsuit over special regulations it established to accommodate the 2014 Major League Baseball All Star Game.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, the American Civil Liberties Union contends that city rules that restrict commercial activity in several designated "clean zones," unless the vendors have the league's permission are unconstitutional.

See where the "clean zones" will be in Mpls.

The City Council set the rules to comply with a requirement of Major League Baseball. When Commissioner Bud Selig announced Minneapolis had succeeded in its bid to host this year's All-Star Game, he promised the event would mean big money for the local economy.

"I think I can conservatively say here today that this game will produce, at a minimum, $75-to-$100 million just for those five days," Selig said. "It is enormous."

But the league wanted to make sure none of that money would make it into the pockets of people who peddle knock-off baseball merchandise. As part of its agreement with the city, it required the clean zones. They'll cover all of downtown, plus parts of the University of Minnesota campus and a small pocket in the northeast part of the city.

For 10 days before, and five days after the July 15 game, the city has agreed not to issue any temporary business licenses for those zones. It will also prohibit "temporary signage viewable from public property" -- an effort to block what the City Council resolution calls "ambush marketing."

Grant Wilson, the city's manager of licensing and consumer services, told council members earlier this year the zones would make it easier to manage the myriad events happening around the game.

"We need to coordinate all those events to make sure that our traffic control, our police, our homeland security all know exactly what's going on at every corner," he said.

But not every event planned for mid-July in downtown Minneapolis is connected with the All-Star Game. The final day the clean zones are in force - July 20 - marks the 80th anniversary of a pivotal event in Minneapolis labor history.

It was a deadly confrontation between police and striking Teamsters. Police shot 67 people in downtown Minneapolis that day in 1934. Two died, and "Bloody Friday" turned public opinion in favor of organized labor.

Jim McGuire, an organizer of the One Day In July Street Festival planned to commemorate the anniversary, worries that because it falls within the "clean zone" any signs would be considered contraband, and he won't be able to obtain the necessary city food permits.

McGuire hasn't asked permission from Major League Baseball to allow the event to go forward. But he said he shouldn't have to.

"The Pohlads, the Steinbrenners and Bud Selig don't get to decide when, where and how we commemorate this important part of our history," he said.

Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, said it's unconstitutional for the city to delegate its licensing authority to a private corporation.

"We do not give that power to Major League Baseball, nor to Cargill, nor to Target, nor to any other private non-profit or for-profit company," Samuelson said. "That power resides with our elected officials."

The suit aims to block the city from enforcing the clean zones.

Major League Baseball did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It isn't named as a defendant in the suit.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal in a statement offered to meet with the ACLU to discuss its concerns.

"We will not and would not violate free speech rights, regardless of the All-Star Game or any other national event occurring in our city," she said.

Clean zones are common for high profile national events. Minneapolis officials note that the city established them for NCAA basketball championships and when the Minnesota Twins faced the New York Yankees during the 2004 playoffs.

A clean zone for last year's Super Bowl also drew a lawsuit from the ACLU. In response, the city of New Orleans agreed to scale back the zone's restrictions. The NFL retained veto power over temporary businesses in the zone, but the city lifted limitations on signs and political demonstrations.