Leading up to the national political conventions four years ago in Boston and New York, locals were advised to leave town for the duration.

Not so this year in the Twin Cities, where officials not only want residents to stay home during the Sept. 1-4 Republican convention but have organized a unique exhibition and bazaar to keep them here.

CivicFest (subtitled "A Very Minnesota Celebration"), to be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center, will offer history lessons and a marketplace with scores of local products to extol Minnesota, democracy and the presidency, said local Host Committee president Cynthia Lesher.

The event is produced by the Host Committee, a community group centered on the convention; it expects CivicFest to draw 150,000 visitors in its seven-day run. Organizers expect it to cover its costs and then some.

"This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is something you should not miss," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who added that residents have told him all too often they plan to be out of town during the convention to avoid the noise and congestion.

Although a similar event was held in Philadelphia in conjunction with the 2000 Republican convention, "CivicFest is unprecedented in its scope and its forms," Lesher said.

More than 35 exhibits will be featured, including a meticulously detailed White House model currently on view at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., Lesher said.

Other nods to presidential history: an Oval Office reproduction where would-be presidents can pose for photos, and a full-size replica of Air Force One's fuselage.

Minnesota will be highlighted with exhibits featuring such hallmarks as the Mississippi River, state tourist destinations and bald eagles.

Three centuries of political memorabilia will be on display, and an exhibit from Springfield, Ill., will focus on Abraham Lincoln, the nation's first Republican president, whose 200th birthday is next year.

CivicFest is a way to ensure the convention is "a teachable moment for our children," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said.

And Twin Cities Democrats needn't worry that their kids will get the wrong idea because it's a Republican convention, DFLer Rybak said.

"My first political experience was my mom sending me out with Goldwater literature," he said.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455