ST. LOUIS - Baseball's All-Star Game on Tuesday will bring more than 200,000 visitors to St. Louis, which has worked hard in recent years to make its streets safer and re-energize its downtown.
The city has prettied up for the party, with red, white and blue banners and replicas of the Gateway Arch placed around town. A multimillion dollar sculpture park opened within walking distance of Busch Stadium this month, and a new outdoor plaza has been put in by the Old Post Office building.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said the game is an opportunity to show St. Louis off to an international audience.
'We're really excited about it. I think with sculpture park in St. Louis, with the downtown, with the parade and literally the city being painted red, I think it's a very, very exciting time for St. Louis.'
Adding to the attention, President Barack Obama will throw out the first pitch. Nixon, a Democrat, joked during a news conference at the Capitol that he would like to see what Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols could do with an 'Obama slider.'
But downtown St. Louis isn't one gleaming showplace.
A massive plan to build a Ballpark Village next to Busch Stadium with offices, shops and restaurants hasn't materialized. A loft district with upscale homes has drawn thousands of new residents downtown over the years, but there are still pockets of empty buildings and worries about crime from residents and business owners.
St. Louis has fought an image for too much violent crime - albeit in neighborhoods not typically tread by tourists. Three separate homicide cases this year in the city's west downtown aggravated that 'image issue,' said Police Chief Dan Isom. One involved gangs, another was a planned robbery of a popular pub, the other a random car theft.
But the city has managed to reduce its homicide rate in the last year. The 62 murders so far this year are down 26, or nearly 30 percent, from the 88 recorded last year at this time.
City officials are confident tourists will feel safe, saying Wednesday that hundreds of police officers, both in uniform and undercover, will be on the streets in the days surrounding the game.
'If you look at the circumstances and crime overall downtown, the downtown is a safe place to be,' Isom said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge John Gillies, one of the city's federal partners, predicted a safe All-Star Game and said it was a good opportunity for St. Louis, with the Arch and Busch Stadium as a backdrop, to showcase itself to the world.
Ann Chance, the city's special events executive, also noted that projects such as the sculpture park weren't developed for the game, and should yield benefits long after.
'Yes, we make the extra effort to make sure we're extra spiffy,' she said, 'but I think anyone does that when they've got a lot of company coming.'