St. Paul in the Spotlight

Workers are wrapping the facade of the Xcel Center
Workers start putting up a banner that will cover the facade of the Xcel Energy Center ahead of the Republican National Convention. It starts Sept. 1.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Michael Kranish is the kind of guy St. Paul wants to impress. He'll be covering the Republican convention for the Boston Globe.

"I've never been to St. Paul." he says. "I've been to the Minneapolis Airport. And I've always wanted to go to Minnesota, to be honest with you. So, I'm very much looking forward to it, personally."

Why?

"It's always looked like a real interesting place to go," he says. "Having lived in New England, it looks like there are a lot of similarities."

Perhaps. But he won't find mountains or an ocean

Kranish will, however, find himself in a city determined to show the media and convention attendees that St. Paul is a great place to live, learn, play and do business.

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St. Paul has certainly been spiffing itself up for the convention, especially around Xcel Energy Center.

In nearby Rice Park, MSNBC will be broadcasting 20 hours a day, surrounded by some of the city's top cultural and historic assets -- Landmark Center, St. Paul Hotel, the central library, and Ordway Theater.

It's an unparalleled opportunity to showcase our city

"It's an unparalleled opportunity to showcase our city," says Erin Dady, director of marketing for St. Paul.

"I would guess a significant percentage of the 15,000 members of the media who are coming to town couldn't even locate St. Paul on a map," she says. "So, what better way to tell our story to the world than to have 15,000 members of the media here in town? It's really priceless media attention."

For better or worse, the convention will affect St. Paul's reputation.

"From a consumer standpoint, from just a perception standpoint, events like these are huge," says George John, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

John warns there's a chance for bad press, though. Think of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Or the riots in Seattle when the World Trade Organization met there in 1999.

"Worst case: It's a disaster," says John. "There are videos of Minneapolis' finest or St. Paul's finest cracking heads in the streets."

But John says hosting a convention that goes well can give a big boost to a community's reputation.

"Best case: Things go smoothly," he says, "and people like it."

John says it's really impossible, though, to place a dollar value on raising a community's profile and enhancing its image. "Most branding campaigns are very hard to quantify," he says.

Many economists agree with that, including Robert Baumann, an economist at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

He co-authored a recent examination of 18 national political conventions since 1972. Baumann and his colleagues determined political conventions generally provide a pretty puny economic kick to host communities.

But Baumann says a big convention can give a community and its residents a boost, intangible as it may be, and justify the effort and expense of hosting a convention.

"Any publicity the city might get, any feeling of pride of having something like this, those things are basically impossible to measure," he says. "We can only guess what kind of impact that would have."

As hard as they may be to measure, Dady, expects the long-term payoffs will be worth the expense and effort of hosting the convention.

For one thing, the city will argue it can handle just about any event if it can cope with the Republican convention. And then Dady says there's the payoff to be had from impressing delegates, journalists and other folks in town for the convention.

"When everyone is heading home on September fifth, we hope they're on the plane thinking, 'Wow, that was a really great experience. St. Paul has a lot more to offer than we thought. So, maybe I should consider moving my business there or sending my child to college there or to come back again for a vacation.'" she says. "We hope they will have that kind of positive experience that makes them want to return."

In the end, Dady says raising the city's profile and putting it on the map will be the greatest benefit the city stands to get out of the convention.