A pending disaster?

Bottom line? St. Paul was a more hopping place when the national square dancing convention was held in the city in 2002.

The Republican National Convention, which is estimated to cost $84 million, was supposed to drop a pile of cash on businesses and the city economy. The cities and state were to reap the benefit of enormous international attention. That was the plan, anyway.

So far on Sunday — and keep in mind in Denver one hotel official described Sunday as the “craziest” day of that city’s convention activity — if you take away the cops, the legal observers, a few protesters, and MSNBC in Rice Park, you’re left with St. Paul on a Sunday afternoon.

It’s a whole different vibe. In Denver, police in riot gear and Secret Service agents in kevlar guarded the perimeter. In St. Paul, private security guards from Travelers are the front line troops.

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Most of the police are dressed in more casual attire, as opposed to Denver’s “we’re gonna bust down grandma’s house” look.

Hamm Plaza is relatively empty of visitors, except mostly for the lime-green-shirted National Lawyers Guild protest monitors. You know those folks — Homeland Security, Secret Service, National Guard — are out there…. somewhere. But where?

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A sidewalk cafe across from St. Paul’s Landmark Center was similarly sparse.

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There were almost no media people racing about looking for something that smelled like news. This reporter asked these people what they thought of it all. The interviewee said he was most struck by “the amount of security.”

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MSNBC is setting up shop in Rice Park. A crew moved a table from one side of the stage to the other, setting up for an afternoon show.

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… and almost nobody watched.

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The Arizona delegation, and Sen. John McCain, will be staying at the St. Paul Hotel.

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Maybe they’ll stop into some of the skyway shops…

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… most of which were closed.

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The city tried to rent — on the cheap — some of the vacant skyway storefronts, to make the city look a little more retail-lively downtown than it really is. The long-vacant Norwest Bank building is now a “world market.”

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But most of the new “shops” (which seem to feature kids toys and books), if open, featured a woman sitting on a chair in the corner, waiting for a customer to wander in.

Town Square, the core of the skyway system in St. Paul, looked like any other day at 3:30 p.m. Empty.

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For all practical purposes, the Republicans are holding a convention in name only. Even the Democrats sent to “truth squad” the convention are pulling out, leaving St. Paul, at least, to ponder what might have been.

  • http://s4xton.com/ Aaron

    With or without a hurricane, I didn’t think the “boost” to our local economy would be greater than the costs entailed to put this show on.

    Now with the whole show falling apart due to priorities in the gulf (which I completely agree with), this is becoming a bit of a disaster to Saint Paul too.

  • Elizabeth T.

    I don’t get it. How is it possible that a party at this end of the Mississippi is going to make displaced refugees as the other end of the river any better?

    Sure, I understand the Pres/VP wanting to be seen to be less than callow disinterested observers this time. Can’t see how their presence or absence immediately on the ground is going to help, either. Great PR? Bush/Cheney are assuredly *not* going to be wandering around in the storm area. If they’re not, what’s the difference between N.O. & StPl? It’s only a 2 hour flight from here (probably less if not on Northwest).

    I realize this isn’t targeted to spite St.Paul, but it seems like completely unnecessary penance for something about which they have utterly no control.

  • Bob Collins

    It’s about perception. It’s not what a party at the other end of the river will do to HELP the people at the other end. It’s about what a party at the other end of the river would do to HURT the political future of those at the party.

    The Dems would most surely take the image of the people partying and pair it up with some person n New Orleans walking waste-deep in water, holding his sneakers or a puppy over his head, and the deep voice would say, “which party do you think cares about you, America?”

    This way, McCain gets to look presidential and hold a news conference as if he’s running the government, rather than running a political party.

    Politics is all about perception of reality; not reality.

  • Alison

    Would the convention be delayed if the response to Katrina hadn’t been botched? Does anyone have any thoughts?

  • Elizabeth T.

    Bob: Well, I guess I just naievly (sp?) hoped that would not be the case. Yes, I know it is. Image is everything. We have gone from a culture of “it’s written, it must be true” to one of “I saw it, it must be true”. [just ask my brother, who does computer effects for movies, who assured me none of it's real.] I guess MPR might be “I heard it, it must be true”?

    And, Alison, I’m sure this wouldn’t be happening if the Katrina response had not been botched. The Republicans would probably still have toned down the partying, and still have made a big deal about being ready. But the President wouldn’t be down there, he’d be up here setting the tone of “we’re concerned and ready to respond”.

    I’m just hoping that the emergency management/response folks have not only learned from the errors of the past (which I’m sure they have), but that they have adequately planned a new/different response, for which they are adequately funded/supported (of which I’m not so sure). [how's that for convoluted writing].