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Hotel rooms, money and intangibles needed to land convention

Three Ohio cities in running for 2016 Republican convention.

Do all those things, and maybe — just maybe — you’ll land a major political convention. But as Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati soon will find out, there are innumerable factors that play into the selection.

The Ohio three cities, all of which submitted bids last week to compete for the four-day Republican National Convention set for June 2016, ultimately will have to prove to the convention’s 12-member site-selection committee that they’ve met all the key requirements to host a multi-day event that would bring in millions of dollars in revenue, unprecedented media attention and the lucrative possibility of future convention and meeting business.

Delegations from each of the finalists were to meet with committee members Monday to put their best foot forward. A Columbus group including Mayor Michael B. Coleman and Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady made its pitch armed with a letter from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger which said, “Columbus has everything it takes” to host a large event like the Republican National Convention.

Other cities are making similar presentations. In addition to the Ohio finalists, Denver, Dallas, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Phoenix are in the running.

All three Ohio cities were also among approximately three dozen cities invited by the Democratic National Committee to vie for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The DNC is not as far along in its process as the Republicans.

Winning sites often have a big arena to hold a convention and an adjacent site where members of the media can write or edit stories without having to leave the security perimeter. “They have to have a place that looks good on TV,” said Jim Ruvolo, a former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.

Then there are hotel rooms. More than 50,000 guests flocked to Tampa in 2012 for the Republican National Convention, occupying more than 78,300 room nights in Tampa area hotels. Charlotte, N.C., which hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention, had 61,264 room nights booked over the course of the convention. They had about 30,000 rooms citywide, including 4,100 in the city center, said a spokeswoman for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

But they can’t be any hotel rooms. The winning city will also have to have enough high-end hotel rooms to accommodate some of the heavy-hitting donors who flock to the convention. In the bid for the GOP convention submitted last Wednesday, Columbus touted 16,000 first-class hotel rooms, as well as 1,000 one- and two-bedroom suites — that’s about as many total rooms needed to host a convention.

Then there are other factors: What’s the distance from the convention site to the hotels? What sort of staging area is there to load buses to those hotels? How many seats can they put on the floor of an arena? How much weight can the roof bear? And what does the selection of a site say about the party, or what groups it wants to woo during the 2016 presidential election?

Columbus has promised 350 buses in Columbus to haul delegates and guests back and forth between hotel rooms. They’ve also promised “no fewer than” 5,000 volunteers to help the convention run smoothly.

Former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, who was on the Republican National Committee’s convention site-selection committee in 2008, said a key issue this year will be transportation.

Tampa was riddled with transportation problems, with delegates often sitting aboard buses for hours. This year’s site-selection committee will undoubtedly bear that in mind, she said.

The delegate experience is important to those picking the site. Sometimes, that means looking out for possible catastrophes.

The Democratic National Committee’s 2004 site-selection committee was wined and dined in 2004 at the luxurious Fontainebleu Hotel, a piece of glorious oceanfront property in South Beach.

But, observing the beautiful view, former Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Leland, a member of the committee, had an epiphany. “Isn’t August the beginning of their hurricane season?” he mused.

The convention went to Boston instead.

Laura Hill of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said Charlotte’s bid for the 2012 Democratic Convention was a “citywide” initiative that involved a handful of civic organizations. They touted their walkability and the fact they were a major hub for U.S. Airways. They talked up their light rail, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and the Levine Center for the Arts.

The convention was a win for Charlotte: Hill said it brought in $163.6 million in direct spending alone. Then there were the intangible benefits: “The international media awareness it generated was unprecedented for us,” Hill said.

It took Tampa 10 years to land the coveted convention, according to Susan Williams, director of services for Visit Tampa Bay. The city bid to host in 2004 and 2008, with efforts beginning in 2002.

For Tampa, the convention was worth the wait. City officials estimate hosting the convention had an economic impact of more than $404 million, including $214 million in direct spending.

Former Ohio Republican Party Chair Kevin DeWine said candidates’ ability to bring in the money needed to pull off a successful convention will be “one of the first priorities” of the selection committee, with logistics and hotel rooms being a close second. DeWine was on the 2012 site-selection committee, which picked Tampa.

During a trip to Washington, D.C., last month, Columbus officials assured Republican National Committee members that they would have no trouble raising the $50 million needed to host.

Another factor, albeit a smaller one, may be politics.

If that factor is important this time, then swing-state Ohio may have it made: Its 16 electoral votes are considered key. The state hasn’t hosted a convention of either party since 1936, when the Republicans swarmed Public Auditorium in Cleveland to nominate Alf Landon as their nominee.

But hosting a convention doesn’t necessarily deliver a state. The Republican National Convention was in Minnesota in 2008 and Florida in 2012 and both states went Democratic in those presidential elections. Meanwhile, Republican Mitt Romney won North Carolina, which hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

“I don’t know that there’s a direct correlation to having a convention in a particular community and therefore guaranteeing it’s going to be successful electorally,” said Leland. “But it probably doesn’t hurt.”

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