Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Local businesses will see little convention benefit

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at http://www.DemocraticConventionWatch.com

History has shown that many local businesses see little economic benefit from a convention, and 2008 will be no different, as this article about St. Paul shows:

When Boston won the 2004 Democratic National Convention, boosters dreamed of economic riches. They never imagined security that would close 40 miles of roads, fence off a dozen blocks downtown and cripple local businesses during convention week. After that experience, one Boston veteran was convinced that neither political party would ever hold a convention downtown again. David Passafaro, president of Boston's host committee, figured future conventions would be held in suburban arenas surrounded only by parking lots.

Instead, the 2008 Republican National Convention is coming to two downtowns, St. Paul and Minneapolis. And if Boston is any guide, the Twin Cities are in for heady times — and big-time headaches. The Twin Cities will buzz with the excitement of hosting 45,000 visitors for a major national event. But in a post-Sept. 11 world, downtown businesses and commuters will face unprecedented security disruptions.

Caterers, party planners and hotels are poised for a bonanza. But many local shops, restaurants and bars will be left in the cold. Presidents, movie stars, media celebrities, corporate titans and VIPs will flock to town. But they'll be strutting at private parties, and you're not invited.
Before the convention even begins, every state delegation throws a party. That means 50 party sites, 50 caterers and 50 teams of waiters. Then come the glittering events for the big donors. The lavish bashes sponsored by corporate lobbyists. The fundraisers for candidates. The rockin' after-parties. Not to mention the issue luncheons, media fetes, cocktail receptions and hospitality suites during a weeklong schmooze-a-thon.

"It's a rolling series of events," said Mark Andrew, chairman of Meeting Planners International, a national planners group. "The best part about it is, it really is only three hours a day where (the delegates) are going to be at one location. That's a planner's dream."

Said Passafaro: "The businesses that deal with conventions — florists, catering, chair rentals, table linens, transportation, taxis, hotels, all that kind of stuff — it's a huge boon to them because it's so intense."
Ironically, the crush of parties undercuts other local businesses. "If restaurateurs and bars are hoping for above-average business, they ought to think long and hard," warned Frank Conte of Boston's Beacon Hill Institute, a free-market policy group. "Conventioneers get most of their dinners and drinks for free. Why buy something when you get it for free?"
Security, clearly above and beyond everything else, was the No. 1 issue we had to face," Passafaro said. "And that won't change for you guys." The 2004 conventions were the first to have to deal with post-Sept. 11 security measures. The Republican convention in New York City that year was unique in many ways, including its 10,000 police officers. So Boston's experience may be the closest parallel of what the Twin Cities can expect, if an inexact one.

In Boston, three factors raised concern: protecting against a potential terrorist strike, the convention's downtown location and the arena's exposed site near highways, waterways and mass transit. Still, the scope of the security clampdown was a shock.

Interstate highways were closed each afternoon, even 10 miles away. So were tunnels, bridges, transit stations and more than a dozen blocks of downtown. Many businesses told employees to work from home or go on vacation.
There's no way to know, nearly two years before the convention, what security steps the FBI and U.S. Secret Service will require in the Twin Cities. St. Paul is better positioned in one regard: the Xcel Energy Center is far less exposed to transit and freeways than Boston's arena.

But the Xcel is downtown, and if Boston's measures are any guide, block after block of downtown St. Paul will be fenced off, affecting hospitals, businesses, restaurants and museums.

Traffic on the nearby Mississippi River probably will be halted. The downtown St. Paul airport will be closed. All roads leading to the arena, including nearby interstates 35E and 94, are likely to be restricted, perhaps closed.

The east metro's largest hospital, United, is about a block from the convention site. Spokeswoman Terri Dresen said discussions have begun about how United's 3,500 employees will get to work during the convention, how its patients will get care and how its emergency facilities will be readied in case of large-scale disaster.

In Boston, convention-goers were protected, but at a cost. Boston commuter traffic fell 40 percent during the week, and the security gantlet kept convention-goers inside the perimeter. "It was as if an invisible blizzard had hit town," the Boston Business Journal reported from the city's empty streets.

Minnesota's convention planners say they've learned from Boston and are seeking ways to include local residents.

"We want people to experience it," said Jeff Larson, acting co-director of the Twin Cities host committee. "I think part of the message in Boston was, 'Don't come downtown; it's going to be a mess.' … We're committed to having the people of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the surrounding areas feel a part of this convention, instead of it being intrusive."

Ultimately, however, federal authorities, not local organizers, will determine what stays open and what is closed.

If you're a small retail business within a block or two of the convention site. might as well start planning your vacation now.


Anonymous said...

I disagree that "Local businesses will see little convention benefit". Look at similair convention-type events. I see the ideology, but...

Oh, and go Denver!!!