The metro’s mayors offer mixed reviews on last week’s hosting of the Republican National Convention.
They expressed regret this week that media coverage left too many images of demonstrators and riot police. Some small businesses were disappointed for lack of sales. And one mayor, at least, acknowledged that the attempt to brand the convention as happening in “Minneapolis Saint Paul” was a flop. But the overall view was that the convention was a resounding success for its hosts.
It drew about 45,000 visitors and produced about 8 billion media impressions of the Twin Cities. That’s an equivalent of a $330 million advertising campaign — or 122 commercials on the Super Bowl, according to the convention’s host committee.
“I’d say it was kind of like having your in-laws in for a few days,” said an exhausted Chris Coleman, mayor of St. Paul. “I’m glad we hosted them, but I’m glad they’re gone.”
Favorable impressions — and possible relocations
Coleman told members of the Regional Council of Mayors meeting in downtown Minneapolis on Monday that the event was “well worth having” and reported that many visitors left with favorable impressions about the region’s friendliness, beauty and competence in handling a complex event. He expects a number of business relocations as a result, he said.
His biggest regret was the attempts to “destroy downtown St. Paul” by “a handful of idiots,” he said, referring to aggressive protesters who broke store windows and damaged property. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful. Still, more than 800 protesters were arrested, forcing camera crews to show less of the city’s charm and more images of black-helmeted riot police than Coleman had hoped for. The mayor hinted that perhaps his city had erred on the side of too much leeway for protests. He complimented police for their long, hard hours of duty.
Coleman, who expects to get a detailed report later, said it’s his impression that businesses did well except for small retailers. Restaurant owners and others along West Seventh Street had voiced strong complaints that security measures cut off their district from conventioneers. Indeed, many attendees were funneled from the convention hall directly onto buses taking them back to their hotels or to other far-flung events.
That was a major drawback, said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Events were widely scattered, in contrast to Denver’s handling of the Democrats’ gathering two weeks ago, he said. Nearly all events at that convention were concentrated in downtown Denver.
Too few rooms in St. Paul
That couldn’t happen here because downtown St. Paul has so few hotel rooms. Actually, because of its multitude of hotels, downtown Minneapolis’ bars, restaurants and retailers may have fared better than St. Paul’s. The city was hopping — especially on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday nights.
On the down side, CivicFest, a patriotism-themed festival at the Minneapolis Convention Center, drew only one-third of the 150,000 visitors expected. Business was poor and vendors will get refunds.
A bigger flop was a concerted effort to brand the convention as happening in “Minneapolis Saint Paul.” That’s how the bid was submitted. But when the media arrived to set up microphones, the convention was described almost exclusively as a St. Paul event.
This region likes to emphasize its cooperative spirit, knowing that only when it pools its metrowide efforts can it compete for major national attention. That regional sprit was alive again this time. But the problem, Rybak acknowledged, is that Minnesota’s major metropolitan market doesn’t know what to call itself. “Twin Cities” sounds hokey. “Minnesota” is blatantly nonspecific and, therefore, inaccurate. “Minneapolis Saint Paul” didn’t work either.
“If we don’t know what to call ourselves, then we can’t blame others for not knowing,” Rybak said.
Talk of rivalry became tiresome
“My single biggest disappointment was how many times I was asked about the rivalry between Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Rybak said. Both Coleman and Rybak like to emphasize metrowide cooperation — that the metro works best and competes best when city borders disappear.
Bloomington’s mayor, Gene Winstead, said the convention was a big success from his standpoint. Hotels and restaurants on the 494 Strip were full, and the Mall of America reported crisp business.
Mayor Mike Maguire of Eagan was less enthusiastic. “It was like we got all dressed up with nowhere to go,” he said. The hotels were full. But buses loaded up the participants and took them elsewhere for events, he said.
Dan McElroy, commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, pronounced the convention a success, especially for the hospitality industry and bus operators. But small retailers may not have done as well as they had hoped, he said.