- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn., | The Republican National Convention may not have been the economic boon the region had been hoping for.

Area restaurants that haven’t been booked by private events all week say that the promises of a surge in sales have been a bust.

“We’re actually experiencing lower volume than we normally get during the year,” said Kim Oppegard, manager of Kincaid’s Fish Chop and Steak House near the Xcel Center, where the convention is being held. “I think some people see extra security and turn around.”

She also cited diverted bus routes, roadblocks and protests as possible reasons for the decline.

Other restaurants, however, have been seeing convention business all week. Brit’s Pub & Eating Establishment in Minneapolis has been booked for the last six days.

“If the convention had been in mid-July, we really wouldn’t have done as well,” said manager Shane Higgins. “The timing was everything.”

Other restaurants wish the wealth had been spread around.

“There may have been some expectation that there might have been more of those functions booked,” said Dave Siegel, executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant and Lodging Associations.

He also attributed the poor showing to locals who avoided downtown for a week and the absence of business travelers, who have been all but pushed out of the region for a week.

Hurricane Gustav may have actually helped the local economy.

“On Monday, in some sense, the shortened convention was positive,” Mr. Siegel said. “They have delegates who maybe otherwise would have been at the convention all day, but now were available to go out to eat or go out and shop.”

The convention was estimated to bring $148 million in new spending to Minnesota, according to the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Each delegate, guest or member of the press was expected to spend an average of $1,600 at the Twin Cities’ hotels, restaurants and stores.

“The exposure is priceless,” said Kirsten Morell, a department spokeswoman. “We really want to show them what a great place this is.”

The group didn’t have an updated estimate Thursday.

But before the money can be spent here, the host committee behind the convention had to raise the money to host the event.

For that, Sen. Norm Coleman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, both Minnesota Republicans, relied on their network of campaign donors for host committee donations. Many of the Minnesota companies that donated to Mr. Coleman’s campaign have donated to the host committee as well, including Land O’Lakes Inc., General Mills Inc. and Best Buy Co.

Target Corp. Chief Executive Officer Robert J. Ulrich, for example, has been a large donor to Minnesota Republicans, donating $4,500 to Mr. Pawlenty’s campaigns, $7,000 to Mr. Coleman’s campaigns and $290,000 to the state Republican Party over the last 10 years.

The Minneapolis-based retailer had never donated to a convention host committee before, but donated this year to the host committees in both St. Paul and Denver, where the Democratic convention was held last week.

Mr. Pawlenty lured fundraisers by telling them there is an opportunity to promote new products and “connect with influential government officials (Cabinet, president, next president),” according to a sheet of talking points obtained by the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington watchdog group.

He said the events were planned with the high-ranking Republicans “to thank donors.”

Mr. Coleman and Mr. Pawlenty’s offices did not return numerous calls for comment.

James Armstrong contributed to this report.

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