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Continued: Keeping tabs: RNC winners, losers

  • Article by: RANDY FURST and EMMA L. CAREW , STAR TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
  • Last update: August 28, 2008 - 7:52 AM

The elephant that comes loping into the Twin Cities next week -- bringing with it an estimated 35,000 visitors -- is going to enrich the pockets of many a Minnesota business.

 That's the message from boosters of the Republican National Convention, who cite a report from the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development predicting a $162.4 million boost to the state's economy from the convention.

 But other economists suggest that this is an elephant-size exaggeration, as this GOP confab displaces as much business as it brings in or simply fills the coffers of chain-run hotels, restaurants or other companies whose headquarters are elsewhere.

 Still, roughly 16,000 hotel rooms are said to be booked, hundreds of parties will be held and a slew of waiters and waitresses will be serving up booze to woozy delegates and lobbyists (and, dare we say, journalists?) into the early morning hours. And some major companies, such as utility Xcel Energy Inc. and telecommunications firm Qwest Communications, have their hands deep in both conventions.

 We examine some of the expected winners and losers at next week's extravaganza.

ON THE PLUS SIDE ...

Irish pubs

Call it the luck of the Irish. While some restaurants and bars quietly grumble about a lack of business from all those conventiongoers, Patrick McGovern's Pub on W. 7th Street in St. Paul and Brit's Pub and Eating Establishment in downtown Minneapolis are both booked for private parties and events throughout the week. Brit's didn't just get several state delegation parties, it got the biggies: California, Ohio and Texas. Ironically, Anheuser-Busch, brewer of Budweiser and Michelob -- but no Irish draughts -- has booked McGovern's for the late-night parties.

That's according to a party list from the Hill, but the owners aren't worried about being overwhelmed. "This is nothing for us," a co-owner said. "We're used to the [Minnesota] Wild. This is easy."

Xcel Energy

Here's some math only a marketer could love: The Minneapolis-based power company is spending $3 million -- in special preparations and operations, and a nice contribution to the Republican Party -- for a likely bump in energy consumption of about $50,000, according to Kent Larson, transmission vice president. On the other hand, national and international media are sending out dispatches on the "green" convention, because Xcel has pledged to generate enough wind power to cover the electricity for the event. And then there's the name of the convention venue, brightly lit atop the giant hall: the Xcel Energy Center. This event will be old hat to the bipartisan utility, which is the power source for the Democrats' gathering this week in Denver.

The History Theatre

Funny guy Jon Stewart brings Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" to St. Paul and will broadcast from the History Theatre for four nights. Managing director Kathleen Hansen said the show usually passes on small venues such as the History Theatre, but said word on the street is, "Jon Stewart really likes proscenium stages." The support space for equipment from McNally Smith College of Music, which shares the building, probably helped too. The theater is using the tickets -- suggested price $1,000 a pop -- as a fundraiser. Even spots at the live simulcast of each show in an adjacent space cost $100 each. The show has agreed to mention its broadcast from the theater -- if there's time. "It's not guaranteed, so we're just keeping our fingers crossed," Hansen said.

Cabdrivers

It might not just be great customer service driving those toothy grins you'll see from cabbies during the convention. A reciprocity agreement allowing cabs to pick up outside their home areas plus a fare hike means the cash will be rolling in all week. Gold Star, which normally roams Minneapolis, has 62 drivers who will be able to pick up riders in St. Paul through the agreement. Drivers have been prepped about which areas are OK for pickups and drop-offs, owner Nabil Ali said. "The problem is the traffic," he said. Ali says the agreement will be good for his drivers and means a boost in fares and tips, but he's worried about his regular customers. "We have had customers for 10 or 15 years that depend fully on us to get to work and doctor's appointments," Ali said. "I want to make sure I take care of these people."

Casablanca Orchestra

No strangers to playing political events, the Twin Cities-based 10-person band sent out promotional materials to folks they met when they played at President Bush's 2005 inauguration and other state Republican leaders. That paid off, and the band, which plays a range from " '40s swing to top 40," booked at least four gigs for convention week, and had offers for others. And are any of the band members hesitant to perform again for the Grand Old Party? "When it comes to doing something historical, we're more patriotic than political," band vocalist and manager Melanie Moos said.

... AND THE MINUS

490 Summit Av.

The Grand Old Party appears to have turned up its nose at this grand old mansion, which rents out for big events and can accommodate 250 guests. "We were approached over a year ago and told, 'Get ready, here it comes,' " recalled Marcia Seebart, owner of the elegant St. Paul mansion built in 1886. It didn't come. The mansion has not booked a single party, even though it was listed as a preferred venue on the Minneapolis St. Paul Host Committee website. Hoping for convention business, Seebart kept the convention dates open and turned down four or five inquires for wedding receptions. She estimated she lost $5,000 to $ 10,000 in business. "It's disappointing," she said.

Buon Giorno Italia

Much has been said about the antiwar protests leading up to the Republican Convention, but what about the antipasta? This Lilydale restaurant is a clear loser. "We got no business --nothing for the week of the convention," lamented Frank Marchionda, president and CEO. "We had some people tour us who came in a limousine," he said. "I am disappointed. Everybody wants to get some business, especially in this economy."

The Big John Dickerson Show

Big John has the blues -- the GOP-RNC blues. The popular local blues, rock and country band has been shut out of the Republican National Convention. "We thought we were going to get something out of it and we didn't," said Ron Scott, the band's manager. "Who do I put the blame on? I don't know who. It's disheartening."

Classy Baskets Etc.

You want RNC gift baskets to make your Republican heart go pitter-patter? Classy Baskets has them, including an RNC pillow pack filled with Republican butter mints and an RNC chocolate bar. Owner Diana Roney said she hasn't gotten a single bite, let alone nibble, even though she is advertising on the host committee website and sent mailings to 100 hotels. "I thought I was going to get some business from the hotels or people doing events," she said.

West End Kitchen Inc.

About $160 million of new money is expected to ripple through the Minnesota economy during the event, according to Republican Convention boosters. But don't tell that to Richard Johnson, who said he has to shut down his kitchen and bath showroom for a week because police won't allow regular traffic onto his section of W. 7th Street, a stone's throw from the Xcel. "We can't meet customers down here to show them our cabinet displays and door samples and wood finishes," Johnson said. His business is taking a bath, losing an estimated $3,000 in business, he said.

rfurst@startribune.com • 612-673-7382 • ecarew@startribune.com • 612-673-7405

Jon Stewart has rented out the History Theatre for four days.

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