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Republican National Convention to be One of the Largest Events Ever Held in the
 Twin Cities; Expected to Require16,000 Hotel Rooms Nightly

By Allie Shah, Star Tribune, MinneapolisMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 18, 2008 - They're going fast. Hotel rooms across the Twin Cities, including in host city St. Paul, already are selling out for the first week of September when the Capital City hosts the Republican National Convention.

One of the largest events ever held in the Twin Cities, it's expected to draw 45,000 people and pump between $150 million and $160 million into the local economy. Twin Cities hotels stand to cash in the most, with convention organizers reserving 16,000 rooms in more than 100 hotels across the metro.

Currently, the average rate for hotel rooms is $123 a night in Minneapolis and $92 a night in St. Paul, according to the St. Paul Convention and Visitors Authority.

During the convention, the average rate across the Twin Cities is $235 a night. That includes a broad range of lodging options, from penthouse suites in five-star hotels to standard rooms at a discount inn.

"This is definitely going to be a boon for Twin Cities hotels," said Joan Hummel, a spokeswoman for Explore Minnesota, the state's tourism office.

"It will benefit communities much further out than the center cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington," Hummel added.

The convention takes place from Sept. 1 to Sept. 4 at the Xcel Energy Center.

Typically, early September is a slow time for hotels, Hummel said, because it's the end of summer and many people are focused on the beginning of school.

But this year, Explore Minnesota is hearing from hotels in second-ring suburbs saying that they're getting requests for rooms from media companies and other organizations coming to the Twin Cities on convention-related business.

"Some of them don't have an assigned hotel or they're looking for cheaper prices further out," Hummel said.

In Woodbury, a brand new Sheraton Hotel is opening its doors in August -- just in time to benefit from the heavy convention traffic.

"We were going to do it in this time frame anyway, but once that happened, we wanted to make sure that we could join the party," said Jerry Trooien, owner of the Sheraton in Woodbury.

He said he anticipates that by the time the convention starts, about 75 percent of the 150 rooms will be occupied. For a new hotel, it's a huge plus to be able to get that kind of activity right out of the gate, he said.

Eagan is one of several suburbs that agreed to designate a block of their hotel rooms to convention-goers. Brent Cory, executive director of the Eagan Convention Visitors Bureau, said 70 percent of the east metro suburb's 1,500 rooms are pledged for the convention.

Courting travelers in August

While the convention will be good for the tourism business, it may also scare off the coveted leisure travelers from surrounding states during the weeks leading to the big event, Cory said.

"The RNC has noted, from a historical standpoint, that that typically happens in every city they have [the convention] in," he said. "The days leading up to the convention the numbers do drop off because folks think it's going to be crazy busy. We just don't want them to have the perception that the Twin Cities is closed for business in August."

That's why he and other members of the Metro Tourism Committee are talking about launching a campaign to counter those fears. Their message, he said, will be to let folks know that families and others can take advantage of the newly painted hotel rooms and other VIP amenities available as hotels aim to put their best face forward for convention guests. But people who choose to visit the Twin Cities this summer before the convention can enjoy those benefits before the dignitaries arrive, Cory said.

Mo French is manager of the Wildwood Lodge Hotel in Lake Elmo, which has blocked off 80 percent of its 99 suites for convention attendees during the first week of September.

Rooms at the upscale boutique hotel usually run from $200 to $600 a night. During the convention, the room rate runs from $200 to $1,500 a night.

French said she's been getting calls every day from media folks such as Jim Lehrer at PBS and from various people in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere wanting to book a room for the convention.

"It's pretty exciting," she said. "This feels to me kind of like the Super Bowl."

Allie Shah --651-298-1550.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

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