MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For some basketball fans, this weekend could be their first trip back to Minneapolis in 18 years.

The Twin Cities last hosted the Final Four in 2001. Bunker’s is the same. So is Cuzzy’s and J.D. Hoyt’s. But that’s about it when it comes to businesses in the North Loop.

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“We’ve had some coaches actually come through here in the last couple of days,” said Amy Kamprud of Cuzzy’s. “And they’re like, ‘I’m pretty sure this is where we came.’”

Back in 2001, the basketball games were played in the Metrodome, Marshall Field’s was on Nicollet Mall and the Warehouse District really was a bunch of warehouses. There were no breweries, food trucks or distilleries.

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“Now we have restaurants in the North Loop that people are coming from all over the country just to eat at,” said WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha. “That’s a sea change in less than 20 years.”

The Duke Blue Devils win the 2001 NCAA Final Four at the Metrodome (credit: CBS)

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He counted the number of Minneapolis spots people can eat and drink and estimates it’s doubled since 2001.

But perhaps the biggest differences are in the Downtown East area, surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium. Back then, it was a sea of park lots all the way down to the river. Now, it’s filled with a park, restaurants, condos and office buildings. It’s also added the Guthrie Theater, Mill City Museum and the MacPhail Center for music. The light rail opened in 2004.

“This was sort of one of the last parts of downtown that could see sort of expansion,” said Bill Deef, senior vice president of public affairs with Meet Minneapolis. “It was near to the river, which was an area that was industrial and we’ve taken it back.”

Since 2001, Meet Minneapolis estimates 40,000 people have moved into the city.

“Empty nesters, but also a lot of young professionals led the charge,” said Chuck Lutz with the City of Minneapolis.

There have been no tall skyscrapers built since 2001, but a handful of 20- to 30-story buildings, along with three new sports venues: TCF Bank Stadium, Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium.

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“You wouldn’t even recognize it,” Kamprud said.

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Heather Brown