While Minneapolis was a hotbed of political activity during the Republican National Convention (RNC), Downtown was transformed into a bedroom community of sorts.
A total of 50,000 police, delegates, guests and media streamed into Downtown’s Central Business District during the 39th quadrennial RNC. An estimated 90–95 percent of Downtown’s 6,000 hotel rooms were booked, more than doubling occupancy over Labor Day 2007.
“It’s normally a very slow time of year for us, but not with a large convention in town,” said Meet Minneapolis spokeswoman Laura McCarthy. “It was really a nice time to have a major piece of business like this; it was icing on the cake.”
Aside from hosting thousands of delegates, Downtown was also home to the majority of RNC-related events, fundraisers and parties. But because the RNC was somewhat subdued due to Hurricane Gustav, it was still unclear on the last day of the convention whether delegates would spend the estimated $150 million experts predicted.
However, those delegates interviewed all said they spent their fair share.
“Oh, I absolutely think we’re a boon to the area,” said delegate Charlotte Rasmussen who was stationed with the rest of the Wisconsin delegation at the Marriott City Center, 30 S. 7th St. “I know I spent money at Macy’s and had a really good time doing it.”
There were, however, other benefits, aside from money, to hosting the convention.
Minneapolis-St. Paul 2008 Host Committee spokeswoman Teresa
McFarland said an estimated 8 billion impressions of the Twin Cities were generated by the RNC.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to measure — and this is the reason to host RNC — is exposure,” McFarland said. “The convention is second in exposure only to the Olympics.”
University of Minnesota Sociology Professor Ronald Aminzade, who focuses on political sociology, said, however, there’s good exposure and there’s bad exposure.
“The amount of exposure and the quality of exposure kind of depends,” he said. “By and large, I think it was good exposure; but at times St. Paul looked like a police state, so you have to think about what kinds of exposure.”
Aminzade listed the behavior of the St. Paul police, and traffic in Minneapolis and St. Paul as having a negative impact on not only citizens but also the viewpoints of others.
“For a lot of people it was a terrible inconvenience, and for some people it had a much more positive impact,” he said.
The delegates themselves were left with largely positive impressions. It was clear they were enjoying the weather, Downtown’s amenities and, yes, “Minnesota nice.”
“I have been very impressed with Minnesotans so far,” said delegate Marge
Chadderdon, a resident of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho near the birthplace of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “I see Minnesota as very middle-America — good, solid families.”
She, and some of her 28 fellow Idaho delegates encamped at the Hyatt Regency, 1300 Nicollet Mall, had been to Minneapolis before, but not since the first Nixon administration.
While the RNC featured pomp, circumstance and a number of high-profile protests, once away from the buzz of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul,
Chadderdon said she found Downtown to be convenient and clean.
A 50-year-old Tennessee delegate/five-time Republican conventioneer agreed.
“We have the feeling that [Minneapolis-St. Paul] are two of America’s great cities,” said the delegate who would not give his name. “I think there’s a benefit to [the convention] by being spread out and not confined like it was in Manhattan [at the 2004 RNC].”
However, delegates interviewed often listed their favorite hotspot as the Mall of America.
The 4 a.m. question
The question of whether to allow licensed establishments to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. was hotly debated among Minneapolis Council members before it was approved.
Ultimately, nine establishments paid a $2,500 one-time fee to serve alcohol well into the morning during the RNC. In addition, some 25 others were granted “private party” licenses on the condition that they pay a $100 fee and provide their own security.
Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) pushed hard for the extended bar-time, arguing that it would essentially show that Downtown is a hip place to be and be seen. Goodman said that the Council’s goals of “accommodating the requests of party planners, bar and restaurant owners,” and protecting residents had been accomplished.
“I think that the fear of violence and concern over angry protesters turned out to be unfounded,” Goodman said.
There was, however, one major incident involving the arrest of than 100 protesters Sept. 3 following the Rage Against the Machine Concert at the Target Center.
There was some question as to whether or not the RNC would even be held. Early in the week, the McCain camp instructed delegations to essentially tone down the partying and instead hold fundraisers for Hurricane relief.
Of the dozen delegates the Downtown Journal spoke with played down — or wouldn’t talk about — the much-ballyhooed parties. But while the parties were meant for delegates, that didn’t seem to stop Minneapolitans from partaking in the late-night fun.
Jon Kattke, an employee of AdvisorNet Financial, 1221 Nicollet Mall, said that he was able to gain access to multiple RNC parties through a friend. He was a bit weary Sept. 2 after hitting up parties featuring well-known musical acts.
“I saw Smash Mouth at Aqua, went to [Theatre] de la Jeune Leune and saw Sammy Hagar at First Avenue,” Kattke said. “It was a trip.”
He said the convention was, overall, a good thing for Minneapolis.
“It’s great for the economy, great for the city, good for business,” he said.