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State Democratic convention to have 'huge impact' on Grand Forks economy

A visit by former President Bill Clinton and a round of candidate endorsements could make for a "big impact" on the Grand Forks economy when the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party state convention kicks off Friday, officials said.

Marlys Kennedy, an Alerus Center emproyee, uses a riding vacuum to to clean the ballroom that will be the site of the North Dakota Democratic NPL convention this weekend in Grand Forks. Herald photo by John Stennes.

A visit by former President Bill Clinton and a round of candidate endorsements could make for a "big impact" on the Grand Forks economy when the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party state convention kicks off Friday, officials said.

Party spokeswoman Alison Kelly said 1,500 to 2,000 Democrats will gather at the Alerus Center to endorse candidates, establish party platforms and prepare for the 2012 election season. That includes up to 981 delegates, the maximum allowed under current party rules, and as many as 981 more alternates.

Democrats are prepared to handle another 7,000 to 10,000 members of the public on Saturday for Clinton's keynote address, which is set to begin around 1 p.m.

Julie Rygg, executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the convention should provide a big boost to hotels, restaurants, bars and other businesses in town this weekend.

"Even if people come in from around the region to hear Clinton speak and don't spend the night, but go out to lunch while they're here, it's a huge impact on our community," she said.


Hosting city

Grand Forks has hosted large statewide political events in the recent past, including the Republican Party's endorsing convention in 2010 and the 2008 Democratic-NPL convention that attracted a large turnout with appearances by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the midst of the presidential race.

Rygg said Grand Forks' handling of the 2008 convention helped the city win the statewide bidding process to host the Democrats again this year.

"The city really pulled it off at a time when we were also hosting the world curling championships," she said.

Rygg said the CVB offers sponsorship funding to conventions like this that help offset the cost of the event, which makes Grand Forks more attractive during the bidding process. But she said that money is recouped, both directly through the boost in the city's lodging tax that funds the bureau and indirectly through the extra revenue these events bring to hotels, restaurants, retail stores and other businesses that cater to the visitors.

"It does have a really big impact," she said.

Kelly said Democrats have noticed the city's recent "upgrades," including new restaurants and several new hotels near the Alerus Center, which help the city keep up with heavy traffic and thousands of visitors during busy conventions and events.

"I think overall the city is prepared," she said.


Busy weekend

Early spring is a "very busy" time for Grand Forks, Rygg said, and that is evident in the lineup of events that will happen in the city this weekend.

Besides the Democratic-NPL convention, Grand Forks also will host the state Swimming Short Course Championships at UND's Hyslop Sports Center and the annual Grand Forks Hockey Classic expected to draw 850 participants Friday through Sunday.

Other weekend events include a Trace Adkins concert Saturday night at the Chester Fritz Auditorium, the Red River Valley Gymnastics' annual "Lucky Chance" home meet and a men's curling event.

And Rygg said the North Dakota Students Against Destructive Decisions conference will bring a new group of visitors to town beginning Sunday. As of Thursday, the event had about 750 registered participants.

She said hotels already are busy getting ready for the weekend events, but some rooms are still available. The CVB recommends visitors have a hotel reservation before coming to town to ensure they will have a place to stay.

But even with the busy weekend, Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, said the city is ready to handle the wave of visitors that will come here.

He said Grand Forks boasts "fantastic" venues, a wide selection of restaurants and hotels and a "first-class" convention facility at the Alerus Center.


"From a visitor's perspective, Grand Forks really has it all," he said.

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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