Convention cities ready bids for ’04; Democrats: looking for the right spot – Special Feature

Convention cities ready bids for ’04; Democrats: looking for the right spot – Special Feature – Brief Article

David Mark

Like the Democrats, Republican officials will have to balance competing interests, including availability of hotel space, whether the city has enough facilities to host the convention and the security that goes with it, and whether the Electoral College votes of the host city’s state are in play.

In deciding what city should host their party’s 2004 convention, Democratic National Committee officials must juggle competing interests, including the host city’s financial strength and the party’s Electoral College prospects in that state.

After initially considering nearly a dozen potential host cities, DNC officials have winnowed the list down to four: New York, Miami, Boston and Detroit. Each has its advantages and drawbacks, and what factor proves decisive will not be known until after the November 2002 midterm elections. At that time a DNC advisory panel will formally suggest a host city; the choice will ultimately be made by DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Like the Olympics, playing host puts a city in the spotlight, but can also be cost prohibitive. The DNC’s minimal qualifications for hosting the convention scared off a number of cities at the start of the selection process. The host must be able to accommodate 50,000 or more visitors, which includes 17,000 to 20,000 hotel rooms. In addition, there must be enough office space to host thousands of convention staff members, said DNC Communications Director Maria Cardona.

And of course the city must have an adequate arena to hold the four-day convention, which is likely to take place in late summer. The Republicans plan to hold their convention from Aug. 30-Sept. 2. The Democrats are looking at a slew of dates before then, and have considered the possibility of holding theirs at the same time, to deflect attention from the renomination of President Bush.

In deciding whether to pursue a bid to host the Democratic convention, cities must take into account what are expected to be substantial security costs. Already a major cost consideration before Sept. 11, several cities dropped their bids when it became apparent security could be extremely expensive.

“Cities are balancing security with big boost in tourism,” Cardona said.

These and other factors helped eliminate cities who the DNC invited to submit bids but didn’t make the final cut, or decided to drop out of the running: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Pittsburgh.

DNC officials are visiting the four final cities this summer to evaluate possibilities. Each city is playing up its own local credentials.

Miami-Dade County’s application offers the use of more than 25,000 hotel rooms. Possible convention venues are the Coconut Grove Exhibition Center and the Miami Beach Convention Center

This is the county’s second consecutive attempt to play host to the event, after making an unsuccessful bid in 2000. The 1972 Democratic and Republican conventions were held in Miami Beach.

A Miami selection offers the Democrats a major symbolic advantage: a constant, four-day, nationally televised reminder of the contested 2000 Florida presidential results. Party strategists hope to use the contentious five-week Gore vs. Bush post-election battle as a way to motivate the Democratic base in 2004.

Boston, too, is stressing its existing facilities in its bid to persuade members of the DNC advisory committee. Boston’s 103-page bid was accompanied by appendices and other supporting documents, such as floor plans for the FleetCenter, where the convention would be held. Julie Burns, deputy chief of staff for Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D), said the city has more than 25,000 hotel rooms, many close to the arena where the convention would take place.

“We believe we have the most attractive package,” Burns said. “We have more than enough hotel rooms within walking distance of the FleetCenter.”

In Detroit’s bid, city officials are stressing gains made in a revival of downtown, which they contend would be extended if their city hosted the Democratic convention.

Detroit’s official bid promotes itself as “a city that embraces the core values of the Democratic Party … cosmopolitan … a city built by immigrants… a city with a strong union presence … a city with an entrepreneurial spirit and a dedicated workforce that produces the best America has to offer.”

The city also touts its available space to hold the convention and what it calls friendly accommodations. “A combination of the Cobo Conference and Exhibition Center and Joe Louis Arena offers a venue located on the Detroit River with an international view of Windsor, Ontario,” the bid says.

In Boston, Menino’s office estimates that hosting the Democratic convention would produce $150 million in revenue for the local economy. Officials with New York, Miami and Detroit cite similar estimates.

“For tourism it is a boost,” said the DNC’s Cardona.

Figures provided by the DNC indicate host cities do experience a strong economic upswing: $70 million for Atlanta in 1988, $104 million for New York in 1992, $130 million for Chicago in 1996 and $147 million for Los Angeles in 2000.

Despite New York’s overwhelmingly Democratic orientation, its bid committee offered a seemingly lesser package than the Republicans received. In the city bid presented to the DNC, from a committee headed by prominent businessman Jonathan Tisch and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, New York offered only 17,371 hotels rooms– about 4,000 less than offered the Republicans — and no in-kind security gifts. That would mean Democrats would have to pay for local police staffing. Like the Republicans, Democrats are promised the 17,924 seats of Madison Square Garden.

Joe Andrew, co-chair of the DNC’s site advisory Committee, said such plans are still fluid and not finalized. Andrew also dismissed reports that DNC Chairman McAuliffe wanted the convention held in a city with a Democratic mayor. New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is a Republican.

“That’s not a consideration,” Andrew said. “We are not dismissing the city. New York is a true finalist.”

The sheer cost of building or maintaining facilities has proved too much for some cities. Among cities where costs were a factor in not bidding was Pittsburgh, which said it could not afford to pay the estimated $350 million for a new convention center.

The politics of the Electoral College are almost certain to play a role in the selection process. Two of the cities, Miami and Detroit, represent swing states — Florida and Michigan, respectively — that are key elements to Democrats’ strategy for winning the White House in 2004. But there also are advantages to hosting the convention in reliably Democratic states, such as New York or Massachusetts, because that could help turn out the party “base” of support on election day.

“Boston and New York are great Democratic cities,” said the DNC’s Cardona.

Republicans: Finding a Coronation Location

The 2004 Republican National Convention is planned to be a coronation for the renomination of President Bush, and GOP officials have a wealth of choices in deciding what city should play host to the politically important event.

Like the Democrats, Republican officials will have to balance competing interests, including availability of hotel space, whether the city has enough facilities to host the convention and the security that goes with it, AND whether the Electoral College votes of the host city’s state are in play.

Only one potential GOP choice overlaps with the list of Democratic finalists: New York. Tampa-St. Petersburg and New Orleans are also vying for the GOP nod.

Originally, 24 cities were interested in hosting the convention. But that number fell by nearly 80 percent when only five cities were willing to make formal bids. Boston and Miami made bids, but eventually withdrew or were ruled out by the RNC. Eight cities made bids in 2000. Like the original Democratic list, a number of cities bowed out because of security costs and other factors.

After reviewing the proposals, members of a Republican National Committee site selection committee will visit the cities to see the accommodations, said RNC spokesman Kevin Sheridan. A recommendation will be announced in November or December, and the RNC is scheduled to vote on it at a meeting in January 2003. The White House will have a key say in the selection of the convention site.

Members of the site selection committee will be taking a hard look at the candidates before then. The cities competing to host the convention must show that their community has an adequate public arena and sufficient hotel rooms to accommodate the thousands of people who will attend. The cities also must show a willingness to solicit local sponsors who will contribute money or in-kind services to the convention.

The New York convention committee includes prominent politicians and wealthy businessmen, including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), Credit Suisse First Boston banker Jack Hennessey, and Chelsea Piers founder Roland Betts.

New York’s committee presented the largest-scale bid of the three competitors, offering the RNC some of the city’s most eminent venues and security. In a flashy, media-driven presentation, the city guaranteed 22,025 hotel rooms and $20 million of New York Police Department security.

Tampa’s bid committee is stressing the city would be far less expensive for convention participants than New York – hotel rooms would likely be half as expensive, according to local officials and businessmen.

Tampa Mayor Dick Greco has raised the prospect of guests staying on cruise ships tied near the Ice Palace, which would host the convention itself.

Tampa convention boosters says the city has at least 20,000 high-quality hotel rooms and 2,000 suites available.

“We have everything you could possibly think of,” said Paul Catoe, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau.

A preliminary estimate done by a professor at Florida State University showed that the national convention could bring between $200 million and $500 million to the local economy.

In its convention bid, New Orleans is stressing its existing facilities, where the event would be held, starting with the Superdome, home to the New Orleans Saints. The city has 20,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Superdome, said Bill Hines, chairman of Metro Vision, an economic development agency in the New Orleans region.

Press and security operations – both very large – would be held at the new New Orleans Arena. Starting in fall 2002, that building will be the home of the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, which just relocated from Charlotte.

City officials are also touting what they call a business-friendly environment, as exemplified by New Orleans’ new mayor, Ray Nagin. That’s important because funding for the convention would come from a public-private partnership between local and state government and private industry.

“We’re trying to reformat our image as a sound place to do business,” Hines said.

New Orleans has another big draw: track record. As host of the 1988 GOP convention – which launched a winning ticket in that year’s election – delegates, journalists and party leaders alike raved about the town’s legendary hospitality, food and nightlife.

In a choosing a city to host the Republican convention, there are non-financial considerations as well. Catoe, heading the Tampa – St. Petersburg bid, said RNC officials should take note of the political significance of Florida, which turned out to be the linchpin of Bush’s 2000 victory over Al Gore. Holding a convention in Florida could help rally the all-important GOP base, Catoe said. “We think that Florida is an important state to the Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “It’s kind of a bellwether.”

Reaching out to a host state’s voters is a site selection factor, party strategists admit. While New York will not likely be in the Republican column in November, 2004 – unless, of course, President Bush is re-elected with a Reagan-style landslide that sweeps even normally Democratic strongholds – both Louisiana, and especially Florida, are potential swing states that could use the nudge.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Campaigns & Elections, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group