DENVER - Stepping out of her downtown office building with her son in tow on Friday, ready to head to the mountains for the Labor Day weekend, lawyer Dori DeJong was taken aback.
"This is the worst the traffic has been all week,” she said, surveying cars backed up on Lincoln Street as authorities closed nearby roads for the Taste of Colorado festival starting Friday afternoon.
As an estimated 50,000 visitors for the Democratic National Convention continued clearing out of the bleary-eyed city and workers dismantled tents and took down security fences, life in Denver was returning to its usual hassles Friday.
Many residents said they were surprised that everything had gone so smoothly — the kind of outcome the Twin Cities would like next week when St. Paul hosts the GOP convention.
Traffic was mostly calm — even lighter than usual on freeway commute times, according to some.
Business was good for many bars and restaurants downtown, especially those on the bustling 16th Street Mall. And despite rumblings that there would be massive protester chaos, a highly visible police presence — some would call it ominous — resulted in about 150 arrests, far fewer than the 1,800 at the Republican National Convention in New York four years ago.
Local leaders took an hour Friday morning to bask in the glow, calling a wrap-up news conference.
“I can’t be any more excited” Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said afterward. “Our city was great.”
That was the assessment of many locals, too.
Jim McCotter, president of the Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association, which is near the Pepsi Center, said residents there were somewhat apprehensive before the convention began, realizing the potential for things to go wrong with protesters and traffic.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” he said, noting that the 16th Street Mall — similar to Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall — resembled the sidewalks of Manhattan during the convention. “The city looked great. A lot of people saw what Denver has to offer.”
'A great job’
DeJong, who commuted into downtown every day from Reunion, Colo., said she had no trouble with traffic and was happy to be a part of the festivities. “It was fun to be downtown,” she said.
“Denver did a great job in organizing the town and turning out people who were friendly and having an appropriate public safety response,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said at the convention’s close on Thursday night. “They set a high bar, but I think we can do better.”
The distance between venues in downtown Denver made getting around somewhat difficult, Rybak said. And while the Twin Cities will be shuttling people from one downtown to another, activity will be centered in three compact spots — downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul, and Bloomington.
As long as the shuttles work well, visitors will be able to walk around many areas unimpeded by security measures, he said. In Minneapolis, he said, visitors and locals alike will have a good time. “The streets are going to be really lively.”
Duluth area delegate Valerie Coit and boyfriend Mike Scholtz said things went flawlessly until Thursday night, when the convention’s move from the Pepsi Center to the larger Invesco Field brought confusion. Scholtz, who went to hear Barack Obama’s acceptance speech with a guest pass, said he and Coit stood in line for an hour and 45 minutes.
Coit also said she thought the protesters were kept too far from the delegates. “I was a little sad I couldn’t see more of that,” she said.