On The Road In Missouri

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David Greene is traveling from Barack Obama's hometown of Chicago to John McCain's hometown of Phoenix talking to local leaders. We catch up with him on the road between Springfield and Kansas City, Mo.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

While Denver is cleaning up from the Democrats big party, St. Paul is gearing up for the Republicans. Fifty thousand visitors are expected to arrive for the GOP convention next week. And as Minnesota public radio's Laura Yuen reports, the city is using the occasion to remake its image.

LAURA YUEN: Erin Dady is St. Paul's convention planner, and she's busy.

Ms. ERIN DADY (Planner, St. Paul's Convention): Just like before you welcome your in laws to your house, you make sure that clean up, spruce up, put on the best show possible.

YUEN: That's why workers have spent this week cleaning up a fountain at Rice park, where MSNBC will be broadcasting. And the nearby downtown library has even begun dying its bushes green - yes, dying them - using a plant friendly dye of course. And if you think that sounds strange, well, city hall has declared war on downtown pigeons. Mary Chris Coleman, who was so disturbed last year by all the bird droppings, that he resolved to clean up the area in time for the RNC. Officials have put animal control supervisor Bill Stephenson on pigeon watch.

Mr. BILL STEPHENSON (Supervisor, Animal Control): They just didn't like the aesthetics, you know, you can see where it drips on the sidewalk and could end up dripping on somebody's head.

YUEN: So, the city built the pigeons a roosting place on top of a downtown building. It looks like a primitive doll house, a large feeder pours out pellets containing an oral contraceptive. City interns have been confiscating the unhatched eggs and replacing them with fake ones. But it seems that some of the pigeons haven't been taking their medicine. On this day, two eggs have hatched into baby pigeons.

Mr. STEPHENSON: Oh, two more. Missed a couple of eggs.

YUEN: Aside from being tired of pigeons, the powers that be in St. Paul are also tired of hearing that downtown is dead. So they've decided to revive it, at least for the week of the Republican convention. The city encouraged building owners to offer low rents and short-term leases as a way to entice new retailers to town during the RNC. Stacy Finnegan took the bait.

Ms. STACY FINNEGAN (RNC Retailer: Owner, Il Vostro Boutique): This is a new line that I just picked up. It's out of Paris. It's called Avant Garde. It's a jewelry line.

YUEN: Finnegan opened this Italian-styled boutique Il Vostro a couple of weeks ago. Visitors will have not only more places to shop, but they'll have more time to drink. Bars in St. Paul will be allowed to stay open until 4 a.m., that's two hours later than usual. Visitors will also have more to listen to.

(Soundbite of music)

YUEN: This is a town where you never run into a busker. But the mayor's office has teamed up with a local music college and is asking musicians to play for tips on downtown sidewalks. One of those bands is Dread I Dread. The band is going over a few songs in a Minneapolis living room. Lead singer Pee Wee Thread, his real name is Darius Collins, grew up in New Orleans where street performers are a fact of life.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DARIUS COLLINS (Lead Singer, Dread I Dread): (Singing) I wanna know that (unintelligible) tomorrow. It won't stop like it won't (unintelligible)

YUEN: Collins says, in downtown St. Paul, he's never performed as a busker, let alone seen one. So he's excited about the city's transformation, even if it is short lived.

Mr. COLLINS: It is going to be at. This one week is going to be packed up, man, I got to clean it up so all right you guys get out here. You know, after the week, you know they'll be pretty tired you know, we have a Scandinavian population up here to clean up, get everything back to normal. They all get us straight.

YUEN: Still, Collins lives in hope that the music and all the other signs of urban life will stick around long after the convention. For NPR News, I'm Laura Yuen in St. Paul.

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