St. Paul official: Businesses shouldn’t worry about GOP convention

MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball

Downtown St. Paul business owners and workers were reassured Friday that the Republican National Convention — coming to St. Paul Sept. 1-4 — should  not unduly interfere with their livelihoods.

Although no vehicles will be allowed in the immediate area of the Xcel Energy Center, all the major roads into the downtown core will be open and there should be easy access to nearly every business, said Erin Dady, St. Paul’s city marketing director.

She and Tom Walsh, St. Paul police spokesman, met with about 100 people this morning at Galtier Plaza, in an event sponsored by the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

”Downtown St. Paul will be open for business during the convention,” Dady said. An early press report that the freeways would be closed for the convention is not true, she said.

Downtown workers who park in 15 lots or ramps very close to the arena will be relocated to other lots on the periphery of downtown and shuttle service will be provided for them. Sixty-five other downtown ramps and lots will be open as usual throughout the convention, Dady said.

The first day of the convention is Labor Day, when many businesses are closed, and that’s expected to be the most congested day of the convention, Dady said. In addition to a protest march that day — from the Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center and back — there is a major union-sponsored picnic and music festival  at Harriet Island, just across the river from downtown..

Concern about protests
The protest organizers have predicted that they will have up to 50,000 people for the Monday march; Walsh said police will be prepared for that many, although it’s unclear if that estimate is accurate. Some streets between the Capitol and the arena  will be closed to accommodate the marchers.

Many of the business people in attendance seemed concerned about the protesters, and whether they might cause problems for downtown stores and offices.

“We welcome peaceful protesters in St. Paul,” Dady said. Her emphasis was on “peaceful.” She said there has been extensive planning that has tried to balance the security and access questions with the free speech rights of the protesters.

Walsh said that adequate police resources will be on hand.

Vehicles will be unable to enter a restricted area around the Xcel Energy Center — between St. Peter and Chestnut Sts. and Kellogg Blvd. and I-35 E — from the close of business on Aug. 29 until Friday morning, Sept. 5. With the holiday on Sept. 1, the restrictions will affect most businesses only on Sept. 2-4, Tuesday through Thursday.

Additional meetings for residents and businesses to provide more information about access and deliveries will be held at City Hall Aug. 11 at 6 p.m. and Aug. 13 at 8 a.m.

Dady said that the 15,000 delegates to the convention will be ferried from area hotels to the convention site each day by 350 private charter buses. That means there should be less traffic coming into and out of downtown than on a Minnesota Wild hockey night, where most of the 19,000 people arrive by car.

With an expected 45,000 visitors descending on the metro area for the convention — media, guests, VIP in addition to the delegates — some area businesses may have overestimated the profit potential.

Realistic expectations
Dady said she urges businesses to have realistic expectations, and judge the success of the convention by comparing their bookings and sales with last year at the same time, rather than with those exaggerated expectations. For example, the St. Paul Hotl, located just across Rice Park from the arena, has book 35 events for convention week and it’s catering business is up 500 percent over the same period last year.

Patty Wirth, of Custom Chocolate in Roseville, said the chocolate maker will open an outlet for corporate sales in the downtown skyway Aug. 15, two weeks before the convention.

She said they hope to corral some of the visitors who will be wandering the skyways. “And maybe we’ll get some ongoing corporate business,” Wirth said.

Myron Peterson of the Peterson Popcorn shop in the skyway, many blocks from the arena, doesn’t expect many visitors or delegates to make it that deep into the skyway system.

Jim Thomas, owner of the Lancer auto repair shop on the eastern edge of downtown, far from the arena, wondered if there were provisions for a tow truck to get into the restricted area, in case of vehicle breakdowns. No cars in the zone should mean no breakdowns, he was told.

Other tidbits from the meeting;

MSNBC plans to broadcast live from Rice Park, 20 hours each day of the convention.

So far, no bars have applied for the 4 a.m. closing license, probably because of the $2,500 license fee. (Dady said there are reports that Minneapolis may drop the high fee, which might lead to reevaluation in St. Paul.)

The Dorothy Day center for homeless folks, just blocks from the arena, will stay open and there is ongoing planning on how to keep it accessible. There is a possibility of fencing. There are no plans to follow Denver’s plan, where the homeless reportedly will be given movie tickets, apparently to keep them out of the Democratic Convention vicinity. (Is that because St. Paul thinks it’s a bad idea, or because St. Paul doesn’t have a downtown movie theater?)

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