Sunday, June 25, 2006

Logistics keeping cities from bidding for conventions

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

At one point earlier this year, I questioned whether any more than two cities would bid for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Congressional Quarterly looks at the reasons:

It is hard for officials and boosters of many American cities to avoid getting stars in their eyes when the major parties start soliciting potential sites for their next presidential nominating conventions. The quadrennial gatherings hold out the prospect of revenue streams and days of free publicity — not to mention a chance, perhaps, to share the stage with the current or next president and to hobnob with celebrities from the worlds of politics, media and entertainment.

But then they get a load of the details. There are long lists of logistic requirements demanded by the parties, including a single convention venue that can accommodate thousands of delegates and party officials and many thousands more journalists who will cover the proceedings, and at least 20,000 hotel rooms and 2,000 suites for participants that are located within a reasonable commute to the arena. And this is on top of security measures and costs that have greatly escalated since the onset of the “9/11 era.”

It is not very surprising, therefore, that most cities take a deep breath and decide that it would better to watch the conventions from afar. Of 66 cities initially considered to host the 2008 Republican and Democratic national conventions, only six are still in the running.


Cities that dropped out couldn’t meet the parties’ strict criteria for a number of reasons. Some didn’t have adequate facilities. Others had scheduling conflicts with other major events. Others felt their cities simply weren’t ready to host in 2008.

Detroit had originally been eyed by both parties as a potential host, and local promoters’ interest was piqued by the economic benefit the city enjoyed from hosting the NFL’s Super Bowl last January. The infrastructure in place would meet the demands of the Democratic National Committee, city officials said. But the city’s convention drive ended up a victim to its own success at lining up a series of other major events, including the 2008 PGA golf championship and the Final Four in the 2009 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Renee Monforton said it would be too much to ask for the additional significant corporate contributions that would have been required to stage a political convention in just two years.

Las Vegas, which has never hosted a national presidential nominating convention, early on was a hot prospect for the Democrats...

“Many travelers come to enjoy themselves to relax and have fun, because Vegas is about fun. It has evolved into a business place as well,” said Vince Alberta, spokesman for Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. But it was that very popularity that undermined the city’s bid for the 2008 national convention. “We were honored, but we had commitments from other trade shows and special events during that time frame. It prevented us from exclusively dedicating a facility,” Alberta said.

Seattle dropped from consideration because the city doesn’t have an arena with the capacity for either party’s convention, and also doesn’t have enough guest rooms in close proximity to the downtown core. “Simply, because of a facilities issue,” said Tom Norwalk, spokesman for Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

While prospective cities foresee increased cash flow, experience has revealed another side that can dampen some of the initial enthusiasm. The heightened security around the 2004 Republican convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City — about three miles north of the site of the deadly Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center — diverted customer traffic from some local businesses.

“The expectation was that there would be a lot of business as a result of the convention. But because of the level of security that had to be maintained around [Madison Square Garden], most of the delegates spent most of their time within the security network and did not spend a lot of time or money in the restaurants,” said E. Charles Hunt, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association. “Overall, the restaurants didn’t see the level of business they expected.”

One vendor in the Madison Square Garden area told Hunt the only patrons in his restaurant as a result of the convention were police officers and fire department personnel on hand as part of the security detail. Hunt added that caterers were kept busy inside the convention center itself.

One of these years, there won't be any cities that want to put up any money to host the convention, and the parties will have to raise a lot more money if they still want to have them.