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.
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?
A sidewalk cafe across from St. Paul’s Landmark Center was similarly sparse.
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.”
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.
… and almost nobody watched.
The Arizona delegation, and Sen. John McCain, will be staying at the St. Paul Hotel.
Maybe they’ll stop into some of the skyway shops…
… most of which were closed.
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.”
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.
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.