GOP convention planners readying discounts — and police presence — for visitors

We want those incoming Republicans — and all the other visitors and media coming to town in September for the Republican National Convention — to save money and feel appreciated, so organizers today announced a discount plan.

Everyone attending the convention will get a discount card offering at least 20 percent off certain purchases at hundreds of stores, restaurants and other establishments. And it’s not just St. Paul; businesses metro-wide and around the state will be involved, too.

More than 100 places already have signed up, including Macy’s, and many of the shops at the Mall of America are expected to join. Some of the greater Minnesota businesses on the list include resorts like Cragun’s in the Brainerd area and the North Shore’s Lutsen and East Bay Suites.

Cossetta’s, just blocks from the convention site at the Xcel Energy Center, is on the list. So is O’Gara’s Bar and Grill, several miles away on Snelling Avenue.

“The convention will be a great business opportunity, not just for St. Paul, but the entire state,” said owner Dan O’Gara. He hosted today’s press conference, where the convention Host Committee unveiled the discount program’s official name and the card design.

Teresa McFarland, communications director for the Host committee, said businesses that want to be part of the program must sign up by March 14; the business and its RNC discount will be listed in a brochure sent in advance to the 45,000 expected visitors. The discount deals will also be posted on the  committee’s website. And businesses in the program will get a window display to remind people to come on in and get a good deal.

Also, the card will be good from Aug. 23 to Sept. 7 to encourage visitors to come early and stay late. The convention runs Sept. 1-4.

Local residents won’t get the card; it’s for visitors only, said Cyndy Lesher, president to the host committee. Joe Soucheray won’t like that.

The days before and during the convention will be particularly hectic for O’Gara and his crew. In addition to the popular bar, restaurant and nightclub, they also have a booth at the State Fair, selling Irish treats in the Food Building. And the State Fair runs for 12 days, concluding on the convention’s first day.

“It’s going to be hectic,” he said.

In addition, several groups have inquired about renting out O’Gara’s bar, or certain parts of it, for the entire convention period, he said.

If that happens, he’ll offer the 20 percent discount during the week before, but his establishment just might be closed to the public during the actual convention.

Communications are key
McFarland, who was hired last week as communications director for the Minneapolis St. Paul 2008 Host Committee, is a public relations vet who is a partner in McFarland Cahill Communications. (Yes, they’re really calling it the Minneapolis St. Paul 2008 Host Committee, even though the convention is in downtown St. Paul. Soucheray isn’t going to like that, either, but convention organizers say both cities, and Bloomington, played crucial roles in getting the convention to come here. St. Paul doesn’t have enough hotel space or meeting rooms itself, so it’s willing to share the work. And top billing.)

McFarland, who said she’ll still do some work with her company while working on the convention, describes herself like this on the company website: “Strategist, political junkie (had the good fortune to work for two governors and a congressman), once ran the PR Department for  Mall of America, consumer of all things retail.”

The political references would be Gov. Rudy Perpich, Gov. Jesse Ventura (on his transition team for four months), and Congressman Tim Penny.

Officer, can you hold my protest sign?
A Minneapolis police officer told a group the other day that they will need 10,000 police officers to keep order during the convention. That would be surge-like.

But it’s not really that many.

Erin Dady, St. Paul’s marketing director and coordinator of convention logistics, said there are 10,000 licensed officers in the entire state, but we’ll only need “a few thousand” for the convention.

But it will mean importing officers from small departments around the state to help the St. Paul and Minneapolis police departments and the Ramsey and Hennepin County sheriffs’ departments.

Recruiting, spearheaded by Assistant St. Paul Police Chief Matt Bostrom, is going well, because officers around the state see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a huge event. They’ll also get special training that will be useful back home. And they’ll get special paid-for liability insurance, in case of problems.

And those new Tasers — 234 of them — which St. Paul is buying with drug seizure money, while not related to the upcoming convention, officials say. But they will be available. Another good reason for  the liability insurance.

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