Local News
11:00 pm
Sat February 15, 2014

Will Cincinnati host the 2016 GOP convention?

We’ve seen big, high profile conventions and other gatherings in Cincinnati plenty of times in recent years.

We’ve had the national NAACP, the national FOP and others. We’ve hosted Major League Baseball’s Civil Rights game twice; and, next year, Great American Ball Park will host another whopper, the All Star Game.

All have brought beaucoup dollars into the city.

But the big prize might be right around the corner – a national presidential nominating convention. The Republican National Convention to be exact.

Dan Lincoln, the president and CEO of the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors because is busy putting together a formal presentation to the Republican National Committee (RNC), with the help of local GOP leaders and others.

It is due to the RNC’s nine-member site selection committee by Feb. 26.

Hosting a national presidential nominating committee is a massive undertaking.

And it takes money – the locals will have to raise at least $20 million and maybe more - $40 million, $60 million possibly – to lure the convention here.

But the payoff is great – some 50,000 people flooding into Cincinnati and the surrounding area, filling the hotels, jamming the restaurants and bars, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Last Monday, Lincoln, Hamilton County GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou, Republican county commissioner Greg Hartmann, Western and Southern president and CEO John Barrett, U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup and others met in Washington with the RNC committee to discuss a 29-page RNC document outlining just what a city has to do to win the big prize.

And they weren’t alone.

Officials from Columbus, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Phoenix also met with the RNC committee.

Cincinnati officials are talking about U.S. Bank Arena as the convention venue, with the media work space – and there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 media members who attend these things, far outnumbering the delegates and alternates – to be located, possibly, in the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Landing a national presidential nominating convention is a dice roll, but there is a growing group of Cincinnati Republicans and business leaders – even some Democrats – who say they are all in for trying.

“Why not here?,’’ Triantafilou said. “This is not like trying to get the Olympics. This is a political convention in a crucial city in a swing state. It is a natural fit.”

Cincinnati hasn’t held a national presidential nominating convention since 1880, when the Civil War general Winfield Scott Hancock was nominated by the Democrats at Music Hall. He went on to lose the general election to Ohio’s James Garfield. It was a rather raucous affair, but on a far smaller scale than a modern presidential nominating convention.

I have covered 14 presidential nominating conventions, Democratic and Republican, since 1980, in cities from one end of the country to the other.

Some have gone off as smooth as silk; some have been logistical nightmares – mainly because of the challenges involved in moving tens of thousands of people from far-flung hotels to arenas and stadiums in the center of a city. They are Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get.

One of the big questions to be answered is whether US Bank Arena is big enough to hold a convention. The locals assure us that it is. It has a seating capacity of 17,566. The trick is getting all the delegations and the monstrously huge podiums that are used at modern conventions on the floor.

Certainly, a Democratic national convention wouldn’t fit – they have more than twice the number of delegates and alternates than the Republicans send to their conventions. It might be a tight squeeze, but it could probably be done. Local GOP officials say they have been assured it would work.

At most conventions, the media work space is within easy walking distance of the arena or stadium. If the media center ends up at the convention center on Elm Street, it would necessitate constant shuttle buses running to and from the convention center. There might be some media grumbling about that.

And, after all, a modern presidential nominating convention is a media show, created to give maximum media exposure to the political party’s nominee and message. It’s been many decades where a presidential nominating committee was gaveled into session without everybody in the world knowing who the nominee would be.

Triantafilou said that once the formal proposal goes to the RNC committee, the field of candidates will be narrowed to three cities.

“If we make the cut, that’s when the real push will begin,’’ Triantafilou said.

Even Democratic politicians here are backing the GOP’s effort to bring the convention to Cincinnati. They know the economic benefit and the positive media exposure the city can get from such an event.

Triantafilou said he has talked to Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat, and expects him to write a letter to the RNC in support. Council member P.G. Sittenfeld, also a Democrat, has made the same offer. And even Tim Burke, the county Democratic Party chairman, has offered to write a letter of support.

“I honestly think it would be a tremendous boon to the city,’’ Burke told WVXU.

There was some talk in 2012 of shortening the traditional four-day convention by a day. In 2012, the GOP met in Tampa, and the first day of the planned four day convention was cancelled because of a hurricane passing nearby in the Gulf of Mexico.

Triantafilou said no decision has been made yet on whether the 2016 convention will be a three-day or a four-day affair.

All we know is that it will be in July 2016, one year after the All Star Game at Great American Ball Park.

The ball park is right next door to US Bank Arena; and it would be a logistical nightmare if the Reds were playing. So, Triantafilou said, the RNC has told major league cities that if they get the big prize, they should immediately contact Major League Baseball and have the Reds scheduled for a road trip on whatever dates in July 2016 are decided on.

Triantafilou is cautiously optimistic about Cincinnati’s chances.

“I’m not saying we are going to get it,’’ Triantafilou said. “But, on Feb. 26, we are going to be on an equal footing with all of the other committees who submit proposals.

This is not a pipe dream like the ill-fated attempt in the late 1990s to bring the 2012 Summer Olympics to Cincinnati.

“This is real,’’ Triantafilou said. “This could really happen.”