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Cleveland and Philadelphia are gearing up again to host the Republican and Democratic national conventions next summer. Economic realities have changed for both cities since the last time they played host to the big parties.
Republicans assemble in Cleveland
RNC Host Committee CEO David Gilbert
David Gilbert, CEO of the RNC host committee, has a lot on his plate. He’s got to finalize 4,000 hotel rooms and raise Cleveland’s share of cash for its financial commitment for the event.
The last time Cleveland hosted the RNC was almost 80 years ago, and there’s been plenty of economic turmoil since then. But officials are putting their best foot forward for the 50,000 people expected to converge on C-town in 2016.
There’s more on his to-do list, but Gilbert can’t help but smile at the clouds of dust stirred up by trucks and construction workers across the street. “Well, it’s a total of $64 million in cash, and we’ve raised just about 40,” he says.
“Right in front of us is a new 600-room Hilton Hotel that will be open in May of next year,” he says, shifting his stance slightly to the south. “And right up the road is a $35 million renovation of Public Square.”
Since Cleveland hosted the RNC in 1936, it’s taken hits to its industrial and manufacturing sectors, as well as population. But recently the city’s seen a gradual rebound that can’t all be LeBron James’ doing.
Eighty-three-year-old Helaine Zemel has lived through those ups and downs. She was just a toddler when the RNC was last here.
“As far as the economy, I think it’s the greatest thing that could happen,” Zemel says. “I think people are discovering a brand new place.”
The RNC’s projected economic impact means up to $250 million in direct spending, though much of that will be concentrated around the convention site itself.
Construction banner proclaiming Hilton Hotel, set to be open in May 2016 ahead of the RNC
Democrats unite in the City of Brotherly Love
The Democrats are planning their big convention in Philadelphia next July; it’s been 15 years since the city hosted the Republicans’ big party.
Since then, the City of Brotherly Love has earned a good reputation for hosting major events, but it didn’t come cheap. In 2000, Philadelphia had to raise $60 million.
“We didn’t have a really good name back then in 2000,” says Renee Amoore, deputy chair of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party. “They had to do a whole lot of things so people would buy in to Philadelphia.”
The preparations included moving strip clubs off a major highway just across the river. They even painted some of the brown grass green in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, made famous in the movie “Rocky.”
Fifteen years later, the investment has paid off. The city has hosted other headline events and coming this fall: Pope Francis.
So when the Democrats arrive next summer, Philly will have even more to show off, including new hotels and restaurants. But organizers aren’t resting on the painted grass.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is the host committee’s head fundraiser.
“We have to do a party for 30, 40,000 delegates,” he says. “We have to do a party for all the press and the media – 25, 30,000 of those.”
That’s a lot of Chardonnay.
Part of Rendell’s job is getting corporations to pay for things such as the electric bill for the media tent and the big cocktail parties with city views. He also has to get checks for renting out the local sports arena and all that helium for the balloons.
In all, Philadelphia has to raise $70 million. That’s nearly twice the amount it’s costing to welcome Pope Francis and 2 million of his followers.
“We have to entertain in a way that the Pope’s visit isn’t entertaining,” Rendell says.
In other words, for the faithful, no expensive cocktail parties.
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