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Continued: RNC: So, how'd we do? Depends on who you ask

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE, EMILY KAISER and HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Last update: September 5, 2008 - 10:29 PM

The miles of metal security fences and network television sets were being dismantled on Friday. Streets and freeway exits were opened again. The international spotlight on St. Paul and Minneapolis went dim.

Cue the Monday-morning quarterbacking.

After luring the Republican National Convention and spending more than a year preparing for it, how did the Twin Cities do?

Depends on the viewpoint.

Exhausted government and business leaders gave each other pats on the back at a news conference on Friday, declaring the convention a huge success.

"We have proven ourselves as a result of this convention," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. "We have put ourselves on a map that we were not on before."

They touted the media exposure the Twin Cities received, saying the convention produced more than 8 billion "media impressions"-- readers, listeners, viewers worldwide -- the equivalent of a $330 million ad campaign. That will bring more conventions, events and business to the region, leaders said.

But some businesses owners who lost money complained about the short-term impact. And questions continued over whether Minnesota's image was tarnished by footage and photos of tear gas and other tools used by police in confrontations with protesters.

More than 800 people were arrested overall, including some journalists and bystanders. Many who were arrested, along with attorneys and even some Minneapolis City Council members, called for more scrutiny of what happened on the streets.

St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune said he came away with a sour taste.

"I'd never do it again," said Thune, whose ward includes downtown. He said he'd rather put more time, money and effort into infrastructure and neighborhood safety. "I've always questioned how much something like this does for a city. It's so fleeting."

The city felt like a military zone, he said, adding that it "made my stomach sick."

Coleman said the Republican National Convention's boom would be felt for years, though.

"You don't really understand it until maybe a couple of years from now, when you start to see businesses coming in that maybe wouldn't have considered us before," Coleman said.

The streets

Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak praised the police, saying they showed great restraint in the face of taunts and attacks.

"Our goal from the beginning was to have a safe and successful convention," Coleman said. "We clearly have done that."

Rybak said he wasn't going to second-guess Minneapolis police action on Friday. "But we'll review everything," he said.

Kris Hermes, a legal worker with the National Lawyers Guild and Coldsnap Legal Collective, said Friday that he expects "numerous lawsuits" to come out of the police actions, calling it "intimidation and violence."

Organizers said the unrest did not detract from the convention or the business at hand.

"You're always going to have demonstrators," said Maria Cino, who has been to every Republican National Convention since the early 1980s. "Most of the delegates inside the convention didn't even know what was going on outside."

Business feast, famine

Many in the Twin Cities said they had expected to see more business activity.

John Mannillo, chairman of the Downtown Building Owners Association in St. Paul, said he thought prior hype was a problem.

"I think the expectations were too high," he said. "I don't think we failed in the city, but I think people who thought sales were going to increase dramatically and anybody who opened a storefront or a restaurant would be making a killing -- that didn't happen."

As with many recent conventions, success depended on the type of business and the location. Some picked up extra customers, while some lost out because their regulars stayed away.

St. Paul's popular Cossetta restaurant, near the Xcel Center, prepared for a lot of extra traffic by turning its parking lot into extra seating. But business didn't materialize, with the restaurant cut off from the Xcel by 8-foot metal fences and security.

"It's a 2-mile hike to get around," store manager Ray Vanyo said.

Impressions lasting

But it's the impression to the outside world that's important to those marketing the Twin Cities. Some media reports praised the friendly residents, the strong education system and tradition of philanthropy.

"The Cities are lucky to have a robust and diverse business community," said the Financial Times, based in London.

"The Twin Cities want the world to know that they have produced Bob Dylan and Post-it notes," wrote one journalist at Roll Call, a Washington newspaper. "In other words, there's more than just a boring, flat and frozen piece of flyover land for convention-goers to experience."

Many delegates and first-time visitors ate up the Minnesota Nice.

Nevada delegate Marjorie Jones-Reeder gushed about it. Staying at a Roseville hotel that was not serviced by a convention bus, she relied on public transportation and hotel shuttles. When buses didn't take her to the hotel's front door, others gave her rides: a police officer in one case, she said, and a competing hotel shuttle in another.

Darlene Mathis-Gardner, who does architectural and interior design for government spaces, said she made business connections here and plans to return.

"I thought it would be a little more ... not as cosmopolitan as it is," she said.

Such accolades, including some from visitors asking about places to live here, were repeated at Friday's news conference.

Time will tell what benefits materialize.

"Anybody who makes a judgment now, I don't think can really do an accurate job of it," Mannillo said.

Staff writer Chris Havens contributed to this report. plouwagie@startribune.com • 612-673-7102 ekaiser@startribune.com • 202-408-2723 hme@startribune.com • 612-673-4280

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