Living, as I do, in Saint Paul (or St. Paul, but, given that it’s the RNC convention, never Ste. Paul) Minnesota, I’m a little ambivalent about the 2008 Republican National Convention being held here… and it’s not just because I’m a liberal.
The convention is being held at the Xcel Energy Center, a large, modern, and spacious arena that’s normally the home of rock concerts and Minnesota Wild hockey games. Actually, the stadium is just one part of the complex, which also includes the Roy Wilkins Auditorium and the Civic Center, all interconnected and accessible without going outdoors. In a lot of ways, it’s a venue well-suited to a convention like this.
It sits on the edge of downtown, surrounded by bars, restaurants, the city library, and office buildings. Downtown Saint Paul isn’t known for copious amounts of parking. The Center itself and the nearby Science Museum of Minnesota have a parking ramp; the small parking lot across 7th Street is sure to be taken up with media trucks, law enforcement, and otherwise unavailable for parking. Busing is going to be necessary; thankfully, the Twin Cities have a pretty decent public-transit system.
Three hotels are in close proximity to the Excel Center, and another is nearby. I doubt they’re going to come anywhere close to meeting the needs of the convention, and expect the majority of attendees will be staying at lodgings nearer the international airport. (I recommend the Hotel L’Soffitel, in Bloomington, but that’s just me.)
It’s fairly easy to see why the city was chosen – modern, spacious convention facilities, newer and recently-renovated hotels. Heck, downtown has been redeveloped in recent years with an eye towards hosting large conventions, and clearly somebody knew what they were doing.
On the other hand, there are issues of public safety that aren’t going to be fun. There’s a single tiny (half-city-block) park near the convention center, and another about eight blocks away. I strongly suspect the anarchists, anti-globalization protestors, and other troublemakers will be relegated to Harriet Island, across the river to the south, out of eye- and ear-shot of the convention proper. Somehow, I can’t see this being popular with the unruly masses.
For that matter, I can’t see that being popular with the police, who are severely understaffed just at the moment, because of budget woes. Saint Paul has a lot of attractive targets for the sorts who show up to protest political conventions – 3M’s headquarters campus is sure to be a popular destination for the anti-globalization crowd – and they’re scattered far and wide across the city. That’s to say nothing of the biomedical, international agribusiness, and technology firms scattered like landmines across the greater metro area.
I do predict that the old riverfront jail complex is going to be reopened; hopefully the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office will run things in a fashion that won’t earn it the nickname “Gitmo on the Mississippi”…
Things should be interesting, to say the least. I’m kind of dreading what the political climate is going to be like in this country in two years’ time, and I really don’t see enough changing for the better to reduce the impact the convention is likely to have on the city. On the plus side, I think this will finally spur on the redevelopment of downtown, something that’s been sorely lacking. Whether there’ll be anything left for us locals to enjoy afterwards remains to be seen…