Minnesotans Turn On the Midwestern Charm

Posted August 28, 2008 at 6:41pm

The Twin Cities want the world to know that they have produced Bob Dylan and Post-It notes. In other words, there’s more than just a boring, flat and frozen piece of flyover land for convention-goers to experience.

In fact, city boosters, flaunting the area’s lake-lined jogging trails, corn-dog cuisine and friendly folks, are turning on the Midwestern charm to promote Minneapolis- St. Paul as a hub of culture with double the excitement of its larger urban counterparts.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to show the country and the world what Minneapolis-St. Paul is all about,” said Teresa McFarland, communications director for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Host Committee, noting that her beloved Twin Cities, best known for harsh winters, are often overlooked. “I think people will be pleasantly surprised.”

With a population of less than 373,000, Minneapolis ranks as the country’s 46th largest city. St. Paul trails behind at No. 66, and the Twin Cities are outranked by a handful of regional neighbors including Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and Columbus, Ohio.

Lifelong Minnesotan Jeremy Hanson, the communications director for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, has spent the last several months prepping for the influx of 45,000 convention-goers, the hoards of media teams and the newfound attention for an otherwise quiet city. Despite public fears of unruly traffic, prompting the city and host committee to set up a “convention information call center,” Hanson notes that locals are looking forward to their time in the spotlight.

“We want our residents to stay, we want them to experience it,” Hanson said, his excitement masked by his flat Midwestern accent. “This is a rare opportunity to see politics and history up close.”

This year marks the sesquicentennial of the Gopher State and the second time one of the Twin Cities has hosted the Republican National Convention (the other was in Minneapolis in 1892). Civic pride has translated into more than 10,000 locals signing up to volunteer during convention week, offering their Midwestern manners to greet travelers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and direct visitors around town. Others joined a community cleanup effort leading up to the convention to ensure cities were ready for prime time with sparkling streets, freshly planted flowers and newly washed taxicabs. More than 600 banners welcoming visitors to the Twin Cities will be waving throughout town, and local business vendors bedecked in official convention buttons will serve customers during the week.

Flaunting their athleticism, Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman have teamed up to headline a three-day fitness campaign dubbed the “More to Tri Fitness Challenge” during convention week that will have nearly 1,000 participants — including locals and delegates — running, biking and swimming through the Twin Cities. Rybak is known around town as a fitness junkie, and city residents note his prowess in triathlons.

“[Rybak] is proud to showcase our many lakes and biking and jogging paths,” Hanson said of the three-day challenge from Monday to Wednesday.

And there’s more: Local government and community groups will showcase the state’s most famous attractions — think Prince and Scotch tape — at Civic Fest, a temporary exhibit at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Billed as “A Very Minnesota Celebration,” Civic Fest is a showcase of both Minnesota history and national politics. Exhibits include an ode to the Minnesota State Fair, a 154-year statewide tradition, and, for political junkies visiting the state, replicas of Air Force One and Oval Office.

An estimated 1.7 million people will visit the state fairgrounds in St. Paul for the Minnesota State Fair, from Aug. 21 to Sept. 1. Visitors can pet farm animals, shop for antiques and determine whether corndogs or pronto pups, coated in a flour-based batter, are the better food on a stick. A required campaign stop for any political candidate in the state, the fair will attract Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and his Democratic challenger, Al Franken, representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties and — hopefully — a few convention attendees.

In addition, the St. Paul Public Library has pulled its weight in recent months, educating locals with its “Saint Paul-itics” campaign to gear up for the convention and campaign season. The library invited political analysts Susan Estrich and Mark Halperin of Time magazine to serve as keynote speakers and stocked up on relevant books like “Primary Colors” and, in a nod to the state’s late Sen. Paul Wellstone, “Politics the Wellstone Way.”

“We wanted to get the community excited and engaged for the democratic process,” library spokeswoman Sheree Savage said.

Minnesotans don’t seem to be concerned that their star may fall after the Straight Talk Express departs the Twin Cities. In fact, they expect to find a reservoir of fans eager to return to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

“It’s not every day you get an opportunity like this to showcase your city both nationally and internationally,” Hanson said. “We know that Minneapolis-St. Paul is not on the top of everyone’s list of places to go, but once they’ve been here, it’s on the top of their list of places to come back to.”