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St. Paul booster’s dream: Today, the GOP convention; tomorrow, the Olympics

Patrick Seeb, an unabashed cheerleader for St. Paul and the president of the St. Paul Riverfront Corp., weighs in today with his thoughts about the convention. And he’s not afraid to look ahead — dare I say, dream — with great optimism: An Olympics in St. Paul’s future?

Here is the text of an open letter he e-mailed to Riverfront Corp. friends and followers:

Final preparations for the arrival of 45,000 Republican delegates, elected officials, on-lookers, and media are under way in Saint Paul. It is exciting to watch the remodeling, repainting, and replanting of our capital city.  The energy is palpable.

I am reminded of an event 14 years ago, nearly to the day, when Saint Paul was preparing for the arrival of Bobby McFerrin and his debut with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.  It was a beautiful September morning, Raspberry Island had been dusted off, and the Public Works department was feverishly working to construct a floating barge stage so the orchestra could perform “on the Mississippi.”

The Star Tribune that morning wrote, “The concert is a test.  If the barge event passes, city leaders can point to it as an example…”  And it warned, “If people don’t show, it will be easier for told-you-so critics of riverfront development to label it an expensive boondoggle.”  Well, 5000 people showed up, filling the park with lawn chairs and picnic baskets.  Saint Paul passed that first test with flying colors.

There were many more tests to come.  Together, they form a thread that connects the Republicans coming here in 2008 and the bold idea of this 1994 event.  

The energy of the McFerrin success and numerous other events gave us confidence to host the Smithsonian’s 150th anniversary traveling exhibit in 1996.  It was one of the most attended stops on its 14-city US tour.  The monthlong sold-out show (do you remember the lines around the old St. Paul Arena?) proved a point. With great programming, people will come to Saint Paul.

Among those paying attention was the National Hockey League. In spite of many skeptics, the NHL began to believe in Saint Paul. Bob Naegele, owner of the newly minted Minnesota Wild franchise, would settle for nothing less than the best. And the best is what we got with Xcel Energy Center, itself the subject of national attention during the NHL All Star game and the 2004 Ice Palace.  Later that year, 150,000 people would line the riverbanks to welcome the flotilla of the Grand Excursion.

Separately, the Republicans and the Democrats toured Saint Paul (and Minneapolis) in 2006.  Both came to the same conclusion.  This would be their first choice.  Can you imagine, both national parties vying for the Xcel Energy Center?

The point is this.  Every step taken, every brick laid, every tree planted since that McFerrin concert has prepared our city for this coming entourage.  Perhaps it should be understood that these are not “final” preparations at all.  But rather they are simply more steps toward building a great city.

There is a recent story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that makes a point.  It is this:  Atlanta’s coming of age party wasn’t when it hosted the 1996 Olympic Games.  Rather it was in 1988, when it hosted the Democratic National Convention.  The Olympics were but an outgrowth of that success.

Perhaps hosting the Olympics is in our future.

By the way, the 1994 Star Tribune editorial concluded by encouraging people to get out to see the orchestra perform, “And know that you are also participating in a plan to help restore vitality to the elder of the Twin Cities.”

Both prophetic and timeless.

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