This September, my neighborhood will host the Republican National Convention. It is not an event I am looking forward to largely because I expect it will be something like a large frat party – a celebration of failure made up of drinking and whoring by a lot of white guys.
The city of Saint Paul, however, is hoping for something else. They put a lot of time and energy into first landing and then planning the big event. Why? Because they expect a payoff in return. That payoff can come in the form or prestige or, ideally, big buck$, but the idea is that it’s a kind of investment. Because of my proximity to this event, I’ve made a point of learning as much as I can about what’s going to go down. Based on what I know, I think that we’re all kidding ourselves.
First of all, let’s look at prestige. Apparently, Fox Nooze has a tendency to refer to the convention in “Minneapolis” (or so I’ve been told). The RNC’s own website says that the convention is in “Minneapolis-Saint Paul”. Saint Paul, the city of Six and a Half Hills, is lucky to rate as second banana in the playbill. We’re not getting jack for decent PR, at least in the leadup.
As for money, I have to say that I’m still not sure about this – but I think we’re going to see this whole operation as a net loss for the city. The reason is that we have very little infrastructure to accommodate all the people that are expected. The bars down West Seventh will do well, and several have sweet deals through the big event. Eagle Street Grill, with its panoramic view of the Xcel Center, will be rented out through the whole week by Fox Nooze (We distort, you imbibe – literally, when you have a pint of Summit Pale Ale in front of you). But we don’t have a ton of bars in the Downtown area that can handle all the potential traffic.
It’s traffic that I’m worried about. Those of us who live here have been concerned almost exclusively about security, either because we don’t want to have to give a blood sample to gain access to our own neighborhood or we want it locked down tightly to keep outside agitators from realizing how well 150 year old houses can burn. We’ve been to meetings with the Saint Paul Police where they assure us that they will be ready, despite the fact that they clearly need some flexibility and are gonna wing it a bit. Because the Secret Service and Police and neighbors have been obsessed with security, it’s probably going to be fine. In the world we live in, the things that people have thunk out a bit, such as Y2K, are rarely problems. It’s the stuff we haven’t been chattering about that is likely to be a disaster, and very little has been said about traffic.
A normal Minnesota Wild hockey game generates a lot of traffic, and it pretty much closes things down for a half an hour. We keep a schedule on the fridge so that we know when you just can’t go “that way”. This convention will involve 3-4 times as many people and Saint Paul’s Finest have said they will close down Kellogg and West Seventh, the streets around the Xcel (for security, ‘natch). Since there aren’t anywhere near enough hotels in the area, many people will arrive by buses into � gridlock. Once inside the arena, they are unlikely to want to leave unless they have to, and if they do, it will have to be on foot. That means that they won’t produce economic spinoff, simply because they can’t get around.
So what’s the value of a national convention? I have yet to figure it out. Generally speaking, cities that have hosted these things have seen two parts of the economy do well: hookers and booze. We’ve done our best to chase out the former, and the latter is probably not built up enough for use to really rake it in. I don’t think this is going to be a good deal for Minneap .. er, Saint Paul. When you see this in the nooze in a few months, please remember where you saw it first.