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Was the Republican National Convention worth it?

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Security fence
A fence separates the Xcel Energy Center from the West Seventh Street bars and restaurants just across the street.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Scott Iman will remember the week of the Republican National Convention as the week he abandoned his car.

"Traffic is so nuts down here, there are so many cars. Really, there is no point to driving, so I just hoof it everywhere now," said Iman.

Iman lives in downtown St. Paul and goes to school at the McNally Smith College of Music. He was one of several dozen musicians that played for tips on the sidewalks during the RNC as part of St. Paul's urban makeover.

His bandmate, Ben Novak, agrees they had to put up with some hassles during the week. But he would do it all over again. He says the tips have been great.

Dave Cossetta
Restaurant owner Dave Cossetta says the RNC security perimeter and the area traffic restrictions kept many regular customers away this week. He turned his parking lot into an outdoor patio to help attract out-of-town visitors. His restaurant is located in a no-traffic zone.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

"Yeah, yesterday, we actually made 15 bucks, something like that," Novak said.

"Yeah, and a nice lady left us a bag of tomatoes that were actually pretty good. That's been the extent of it, so far," Iman said.

"15 bucks and a bag of tomatoes."

"15 bucks and a bag of tomatoes, but you know, but you know, hungry musicians, it works. Tomatoes -- very versatile -- works well in about any dish," Iman said.

Maybe it's the Minnesotan way. We like to complain about the weather and the crowds, but we're equally happy to take one for the team, hoping for some greater good.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says that payoff will come in ways that may not yet be understood.

"It's not just the four days of the convention."

"The long term, for the region, which is ultimately what we've talked about. It's not just the four days of the convention," said Coleman. "It is what does this do for us in the future? I think what it has done for us is it shows we are capable of hosting a wonderful, wonderful event for a lot of people."

Melvin Tennant is president of Meet Minneapolis, the convention and visitors association in Minneapolis. He says the RNC puts the region in a good position to vie for other big-ticket events, maybe even the Democratic National Convention.

"Another political convention, another Final Four, and I think down the line, some sort of a major league all-star game, maybe even a Super Bowl. So events we've done before, I think we can feel as though we are back in the game and attract them again," said Tennant.

But maybe the most priceless gift of all has been hearing the words "live from St. Paul" all week. 

Officials with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Host Committee calculates it would cost about $330 million to pay for the kind of publicity the region has received over the past six months.

They say that translates into 122 Super Bowl ads. 

Business, however, has been hit or miss across Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some restaurants and shops near the Xcel Energy Center say the convention couldn't end soon enough. 

And even the CivicFest history exhibit in Minneapolis was a bit of a bust. Organizers decided to drop the admission fee to bring in bigger crowds.

But hotels, caterers, security firms, and transportation companies seemed to be the biggest winners.

Brittani Rainelli
Brittani Rainelli offered free samples of sauteed sausage and peppers outside of Cosetta's Italian Market and Pizzeria. She said for some reason, a lot of the journalists, delegates and other passers-by declined.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Not to mention niche retailers that cater to its visitors, such as the gift store, Romeo and Juliet, on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. 

Sales clerk Alyssa Ambrose says the store's politically charged souvenirs, like the Hillary Clinton nutcracker, have gone over well with the Republicans in town.

"The Ann Coulter doll has 40 different phrases that she's best known for," she said. One push on the tummy and off it goes.

"At the risk of giving away the ending, it's all liberal salt," goes the doll.

The party scene was alive and well in Minneapolis, thanks to a number of restaurants and other venues that were booked solid with private parties.

But while convention goers were spending cash in Minneapolis, rogue protesters wreaked havoc in St. Paul.

They broke storefront windows, and police say they threw bags of feces at bystanders. And their actions prompted a heavy police presence that may have surprised some residents and workers. 

So, was it worth having the convention in St. Paul?

"Yes, actually I think it was worth it," said St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington.

Harrington's department received a $50 million federal grant to pay for security costs. While most of that went toward paying overtime to officers from other departments, Harrington says St. Paul will benefit from all the training and equipment it paid for, things like surveillance cameras and bicycles.

"I think the number of cops I have trained that are bike cops, those will all be the bike cops who will be out next week, riding through the neighborhoods, riding through the parks. Their ability to handle a bike and talk to people, is better now than it was before the convention," said Harrington. 

But the protests resulted in more than 800 arrests. And a number of journalists and others who showed up at the scene say they were wrongly caught up in the sweep.

It's too early to say how much it will cost the courts to process the cases. 

The convention's payoff may be unknown right now, but so are its costs.