State GOP considering 2012 national convention bid: A successful Young Republican event in 2009 could help city land larger prize, but competition will be stiff

February 12, 2007

It's a long shot-probably longer than the odds the Chicago Bears faced against the Indianapolis Colts-but the city could host the Super Bowl in 2011 and the Republican National Convention the following year.

City leaders hope to convince NFL owners that the city is more deserving than Phoenix, Dallas and possibly New Orleans, which could be the sentimental favorite if, in fact, it submits a bid.

Indiana Republicans, meanwhile, are setting their sights on 2012 and are just beginning to think about trying a second time to bring their party's convention here. They lost out in 2000 to Philadelphia.

Besides an expanded convention center and more hotel rooms, what has GOP members mulling the possibilities are two events that could bolster their chances. The Young Republican National Federation last month chose Indianapolis to host its 2009 convention. And state party leaders are working to bring the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference here in September. Indianapolis previously hosted the 12-state contingent in 1997.

As many as 1,000 Young Republicans will converge on the city in 2009, some of whom will be delegates to the 2012 convention and could influence decision-makers, said Sandi Huddleston, vice chairwoman of the Indiana Republican Party.

"With the Colts and Indianapolis trying to get the Super Bowl in 2011, it would be great if we could start looking at something here for 2012," she said. "It would take a lot of commitment, but you never know what the possibility is."

Tough chance

At least one political pundit, Ed Feigenbaum, handicaps their chances at slim to none. Minneapolis is hosting the 2008 Republican National Convention, meaning it's doubtful the party would return to the Midwest so soon, he said.

"I think the plans are shot," said Feigenbaum, publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight. "It just doesn't seem like the timing is right."

Huddleston disagreed, arguing that a strong bid package would trump any concerns about proximity. More national organizations are taking note of Indianapolis due to the city's central location and easy access to downtown sites, she said. More important, though, is the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium, which will allow the Indiana Convention Center to double its space by expanding into land now occupied by the RCA Dome. That expansion should be completed by September 2010.

Whether Indiana Republicans can make a serious bid for the national convention also may depend upon whether one of their own party is serving as mayor of Indianapolis or governor of the state.

Members of the Young Republicans' site-selection committee met with both Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, who helped tip the scales in Indianapolis' favor, said Nick Wahoff, chairman of the committee from Ohio.

"We wanted [Indiana Young Republicans] to have the support of their elected officials," he said, "and both were very persuasive."

In 1999, when Indianapolis failed to land the 2000 Republican convention, then-Mayor Steve Goldsmith and former Indiana GOP Chairman Mike McDaniel led the charge. The concern then was a lack of hotel rooms, said McDaniel, director of locally based Krieg DeVault LLP's governmental affairs practice.

More rooms now

In the meantime, the Marriott Indianapolis Downtown and Conrad Indianapolis have been added to the inventory, and a 1,000-room convention hotel near White River State Park could be completed by January 2010.

"I've been to every convention since 1976, and Indianapolis has the perfect facilities to do this," McDaniel said. "We know how to do big events better than any city in the country."

Even in 1999, with an estimated $150 million economic impact, the convention outstripped all other national events except the Democratic National Convention and the Super Bowl.

The Young Republicans who will visit the city in 2009 will generate far fewer sales for the downtown restaurants and nightclubs. But their four-day stay July 8-11 still is significant, especially for the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, NCAA Hall of Champions and Indiana Roof Ballroom.

Delegates will bunk at the Hyatt, which by then will have completed an $8.5 million renovation that will include the addi- tion of 10,000 square feet of meeting space, a Starbucks and a restaurant.

"It's a great hotel, but we're really looking forward to it being top-notch when this convention comes in," said Todd Tolson, convention chairman for the Indiana Young Republicans.

The hotel's sales team worked hard to secure the business from competitors in Atlanta, said Brian Comes, general manager of the Hyatt.

The NCAA Hall of Champions and Indiana Roof Ballroom will host events that could feature presidents George Bush or George W. Bush, or Colin Powell. Nabbing such a high-profile speaker would help boost attendance, Tolson said, as would the election of Glenn Murphy to the national chairman position. Murphy is chairman of the Clark County Republican Party in southern Indiana and is vying to lead the National Young Republican Federation.

The Young Republicans meet every two years, and this year's convention is in Hollywood, Fla., north of Miami.

The bidding process cost the Indiana chapter $15,000. Another $150,000 to $200,000 will need to be raised within two years to cover costs. The young hosts are confident the money will be well spent.

"If people leave this convention and they're happy, that affects [Indianapolis] as well," Tolson said. "In the back of our minds, we know 2012 will be right around the corner."
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