RNC organizers wonder what's next


Most of the players involved with hosting the convention are looking forward to some sleep.

But Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says the whole experience has ramped him up for more big events to showcase the region.

"The World Series, the Stanley Cup, the Democratic National Convention, and the baseball All-Star game," said Rybak.

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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

He's not joking about the DNC. Rybak says he would love to host his party's presidential nominating convention in four years.

And Karolyn Kirchgesler, the head of the St. Paul Convention and Visitors Authority, is right there with him. She says a bid to host the event is probably in the offing, even if now may not be the perfect time to rally the troops.

"We now know how much work it is, and I think right now everybody's just so exhausted. But I can't imagine why we wouldn't. I have to say, it would be easier, I think once you've done one, to do one again."

Hold on. How would that fly in downtown St. Paul?

Workers and residents just put up with a week of traffic restrictions, a maze of security fencing and a loss of customers at many downtown businesses.

Not to mention what some viewed as a heavy police state. And then there was property destruction by rogue protesters.

"I'm glad those hooligans are gone. It was horrible," said Roberta Nelson, who was riding her motorized scooter around Rice Park on Friday afternoon. Crews were dismantling a stage set up in the park for MSNBC, which had been broadcasting there.

Downtown St. Paul resident Roberta Nelson checks out the scene at Rice Park, where MSNBC had been broadcasting during the RNC. Workers were beginning to dismantle the stage Friday.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

"It was miserable," Nelson said. "I couldn't even get to the library because of the barricades. And even the people that were at the convention, they couldn't even enjoy our town because of all these hooligans causing trouble."

Nelson, a retiree who lives downtown, says she's glad to reclaim peace in her city.

"The whole week, there was so much tension in the air, and you could just feel it," she said. "And this morning, I went outside and it was just so normal again."

But officials say the convention was worth it. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently shared a few comments he heard from all those visitors last week:

"The people are so nice. I have fallen in love with your state. It's so beautiful here. Do you know a good city or neighborhood I could move into?"

And some additional reviews, as heard by Democratic St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman:

A worker begins the unenviable task of disassembling the MSNBC stage in Rice Park Friday.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

"And they all said we can't wait to come back. We can't wait to bring our families here on vacation. We can't wait to explore your community in the future."

Coleman said, "We have put ourselves on a map that we were not on before. We have shown to the world that we can host the biggest event that the world can host."

Civic boosters note that the only other event that attracts more media attention is the Olympics. But no one seems to be gunning for a bid to host the Games -- at least not now. In fact, one St. Paul city official, in response to the idea, said, "Take a breath."

While the national story during the RNC focused on Sarah Palin and how nice Minnesotans were, the local story followed the protests and the tear gas that police used to break up the crowds.

More than 800 people were arrested. The cost of processing all those cases is still unclear.

Officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul say they will review their public-safety efforts and investigate any complaints of excessive force.

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington says his department's strategy evolved even within the four days of the convention.

"We learned what worked, we learned some things that didn't work very well," Harrington said. "We found out that the protesters, as a strategy, liked having us chase them around. So that wasn't very effective for us. We said, well, rather than us chasing them, why don't we put people up so they can't run around. That seemed to work much better, frankly. It allowed us to not give them access to the places they wanted to do damage to."

Aside from criticisms over public safety, city leaders will also have to answer to the perception that St. Paul got the protests, while Minneapolis got all the business.

"Probably the biggest disappointment to me about this convention is we still have this antiquated discussion of whether Minneapolis' gain is St. Paul's loss, or if something good happens to St. Paul, it means it's bad for Minneapolis," said Rybak. Rybak says there were tradeoffs for the entire metro area.

"Downtown Minneapolis had a lot of business. St. Paul had tremendous impressions in the national and international media. Bloomington had great shopping at the Mall of America and hotels filled. So we all got a piece of the action, and I think we should all be happy."

The convention wasn't successful in getting everyone to drop the term Twin Cities in favor of Minneapolis-St. Paul. But Rybak hopes the event succeeded in helping distinguish these Twin Cities from Omaha and Council Bluffs.