Twin Cities vies for national convention

A selection committee will examine the metro for suitability Aug. 13-15.

by Jim Hammerand

The Twin Cities is on the short list to host the Republican or Democratic presidential nominating conventions in 2008, and the University could end up lending a hand.

A convention could have mixed economic effects on the region. Thousands of visitors to the cities – including delegates, media, politicians and support staff – would cause an influx of money in the cities.

That sudden population boost, in addition to increased security measures, also could tie up traffic and discourage locals from going to work, as was the case in Boston in 2004.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitor’s Association have been “particularly interested in housing options on campus” in discussions with the University.

“It would be hard to have a major national event such as one of these conventions in the Twin Cities without the U of M playing a role,” Wolter said.

Further details of the University’s involvement are unavailable, as discussions are still under way.

Wolter called the timing of the conventions a “logistical challenge,” but also a “rare opportunity” for the University and students.

“This is an enormously challenging time for the ‘U’ as the (Democratic) convention would be just a week before school starts – and the (Republican) convention would be after classes have started,” he said.

A convention could bring $150 million to the Twin Cities, but the figures are hard to nail down, according to a release from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who, with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, has been working to appeal to teams scouting locations for the conventions from both parties.

Coleman spokesman Bob Hume said the cities have worked together “wonderfully” to attract a convention.

Part of the difficulty of estimating the impact a national convention would have on the Twin Cities is that it doesn’t happen very often.

The last and only presidential nominating convention in Minnesota was in 1892, when Republicans nominated the Benjamin Harrison and Whitelaw Reid ticket. They were defeated by Democrats Grover Cleveland and Adlai E. Stevenson.

Since then, conventions have become “a one-week blitz on the area,” said Stan McMillen, assistant director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis.

The 2004 Republican National Convention netted about $255 million in economic benefits for New York City after taking into account the $86 million lost because of destruction in the city, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. That net figure was $5 million greater than Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated.

Boston did not fare as well, according to researchers at Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute for Public Policy Research. They tallied the economic impact of the 2004 Democratic National Convention and compared it to pre-convention estimates.

The report said that while Boston Mayor Thomas Menino predicted $154 million in economic benefits, researchers provided a “less optimistic” estimate of $14.8 million barely more than a week after the convention.

“Boston basically got shut down,” McMillen said, because of increased security measures that snarled interstates and kept workers home.

Still, a convention could bring as many as 30,000 people to the Twin Cities, McMillen said, resulting in an economic “shot in the arm.”

“They’re going to spend money in the area,” McMillen said. “My guess is that every hotel, bed and breakfast and motel within walking distance is going to be booked.

“The downside: Obviously, since 9/11 security is much more expensive than it was before Ö there’s a lot more of it.”

GOP spokesman Aaron McLear said there are no specific security requirements set for conventions. The federal government likely would reimburse local and state authorities for much of the security costs.

The selection committee, which will be in Minnesota Aug. 13 to 15, determines how well it could serve a convention: There should be a main arena with seating for 20,500 people, about 20,000 hotel rooms in the city and ample parking, meeting space and office space.

While Minnesota’s potential as a swing state has figured prominently in recent elections and campaigning, McLear said it won’t factor too heavily into whether a national convention is held here.

“They’re mostly looking at business decisions: What’s the best place for us to discuss our agenda, to showcase our nominee,” McLear said, “but as far as the political potency of the state, I’m not sure if that’s what they’re necessarily looking at.”

The Democratic National Committee will announce its choice in November or December, and the GOP will make its decision in January.

Because Minneapolis and St. Paul only can host one of the conventions, Hume said the city would go to the first party to call dibs.

But either party’s convention, Hume said, would be good for the region, “filling hotels from Minneapolis to St. Cloud to Stillwater.”