- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

A $525 shot of rare 55-year-old Scotch. A three-day biking, swimming and cycling triathlon led by the hyperfit host mayors. A concert by country crooner Steve Earle and eight football fields’ worth of media outlets reporting from dusk till dawn.

These are just a few of the experiences that await politicos heading off to Minneapolis-St. Paul for the 2008 Republican convention Sept. 1 to 4.

While Democrats gathering in Denver in late August have dealt with a host of concerns, including fundraising, organizers in the Twin Cities say that at just a month away, they have met all goals and it feels like smooth sailing for the 39th Republican National Convention, which will draw 45,000 visitors to Minnesota, bringing with them an estimated $160 million in revenues.

“All along, we’ve run this convention like a business,” said Joanna Burgos, press secretary for the convention. “We’ve built a Fortune 500 company here in 18 months. Our planning has been very detailed, and we have a lot of convention veterans working on this who know what works.”

Local residents are being encouraged to gussy up not only their homes, but also their business storefronts, planting flowers, adding a fresh coat of paint, removing graffiti and picking up trash along with displaying the American flag.

The “Spruce Up Spirit” campaign will offer awards, including a Red Carpet convention package with party tickets to those families and offices who do the best job of adding new sparkle to their surroundings. Volunteers are even gathering to wash cabs in an effort to show visitors the area’s best face.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We haven’t had a political convention in 116 years,” said Teresa McFarland, spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-St. Paul host committee. At that convention, the Republican faithful of 1892 nominated President Benjamin Harrison for a second term, but he lost in November to Democrat Grover Cleveland.

“We like to say even though we are middle of the country, we’re hardly middle of the road. This is an opportunity for four days to really show that,” she said, noting that residents are bracing for the onslaught, but also excited and “phenomenally busy.”

About 10,000 area residents have signed up to volunteer.

“It isn’t about the politics. It’s about the business of putting these cities out there and to showcase what they have to offer,” Miss McFarland said of the partisan event. “We’re going to be under the national and international spotlight.”

Work on the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul began two weeks ago. Some 3,000 seats have been removed from the 20,000-seat venue, which hosts large musical acts like Kenny Chesney and REM, to create more work space.

The convention will host 475,000 square feet of media space, 25 miles of voice/data/coaxial cable and 135 miles of copper wiring. About 16,000 rooms have been booked at 102 hotels across the region.

At the St. Paul Hotel, a see-and-be-seen place right across the street from Rice Park near the convention venue, “rooms have been sold out for a long time now,” says General Manager David Miller.

There is one exception: the penthouse suite, fit for a political rock star and boasting 2,200 square feet, two bedrooms, a full kitchen and formal dining room overlooking the area, has just become available for $7,500 per night.

“It would be a good spot to watch the proceedings,” said the courtly and tight-lipped Mr. Miller, who would offer no confirmation on who he was counting among his famous guests.

The hotel is hosting both Arizona and Nevada delegations, along with 35 convention-week events and receptions. Their famed English garden in front of the property will boast four topiary elephants in a nod to the Republican faithful, he said.

At the bar, deep-pocketed Republican power brokers will be offered a drink befitting their stature, bottles of 55-year-old Macallan scotch - one of a batch of just 400 bottles produced worldwide - that is available for toasting or sipping at $525 a shot.

“You better like scotch, that’s for sure,” Mr. Miller says of the pricey beverage, noting that takers with expensive tastes have already gone through 1 1/2 bottles.

He expects his bar and restaurant, the St. Paul Grill and Bar, to be packed with revelers, who will add momentum to a town already eager for a political party.

“We’re very excited,” he says of the mood. “We hope to put our best foot forward and open the eyes of people to bring back their company business to the Twin Cities. I think everyone recognizes that it’s a nice boost to the economy when otherwise it’s not doing so well.”

Erin Dady, marketing director for the city of St. Paul, who heads convention planning, says the city will see other events during convention week, including downtown protests. The largest protest, sponsored by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, with about 50,000 attendees, will occur Sept. 1, she said.

The city will also offer a public viewing area across the street from the Xcel Energy Center, where those who want to “engage in free-speech activities” can have an open forum, which will include a public stage for speakers who will be allotted 15 minutes to voice their opinions. The stage will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

Because the four-day convention begins on Labor Day, the Democrat-leaning Service Employees International Union will hold a concert that day, with country artist Steve Earle and former Democratic contender John Edwards. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart will broadcast live from the History Theater in downtown St. Paul, and various cable news outlets will broadcast live from Rice Park.

The city will also attempt to engage residents, many of whom won’t get coveted tickets for inside the arena. The St. Paul Public Library is hosting SaintPaulitics.org, a Web site offering a schedule of a series of speakers, movies and book clubs about politics. A copy of the Declaration of Independence will be on view at City Hall.

While the list of parties is still coming together, soirees are expected to be thrown by corporate giants Google and Target, as well as the California delegation and the Bipartisan Policy Center, along with RNC events.

The host committee, invested in shining a spotlight on the area’s commitment to fitness and to keeping the event green, will offer free bikes for conventiongoers during the week in coordination with health insurance company Humana. The committee will sponsor a triathlon event led by the mayors of St. Paul, Minneapolis and nearby Bloomington, who will bike, swim and run each morning with conventiongoers. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was named one of the nation’s fittest mayors by Men’s Fitness magazine in 2006.

“I think we’ve had a little fun with things,” Miss McFarland said of the planning, which she says is going smoothly as the clock ticks down. “I think we’ve been able to tell our story along the way and be proactive.”



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