RNC, DNC fetes in 2020 alluring for Indy, but bid unlikely

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The requests for bids for the 2020 Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention are expected to be sent out to cities in late 2017 or early 2018, and there’s already speculation that Indianapolis will be a heavyweight contender for either convention.

If Republicans and Democrats come calling on Indianapolis—as expected—to host their 2020 national political conventions, they’re likely to get the same answers they got for 2016.

That answer: Thanks, but no thanks. That doesn’t mean city officials wouldn’t give either bid serious consideration. But recent history gives heavy hints as to how this would end.

In October 2013, national Republican leaders asked Indianapolis to bid on its 2016 national convention, and in February 2014, Democrats sent Indianapolis a letter gauging its interest in hosting the DNC.

For logistical and financial reasons, city officials and Visit Indy turned down both.

A story in Columbus Business First last week reported that if Columbus, Ohio, went after either event for 2020, it would likely have to contend with a strong challenge from Indianapolis.

While Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl said Monday that local officials would give any event of that magnitude “a hard look,” he added that there were some serious complications with holding either event.

“Unless they changed the specifications from 2016, we’d be hard-pressed,” Gahl said.

Gahl stressed the decision not to pursue either of the mega-events has nothing to do with politics.

“We are politically neutral,” he said. “We exist to drive tourism and convention spending.”

The economic impact—not to mention the media attention—certainly makes either event intriguing.

The University of Tampa concluded in a study that the 2012 Republican National Convention had a $404.4 million economic impact on the host city, Tampa. The study found that there was $214 million in direct visitor spending, which is on par with hosting a Super Bowl. The DNC is equally lucrative.

A locally commissioned study found that the 2012 Super Bowl generated $175 million in direct visitor spending for Indianapolis.

Despite the allure of the RNC and DNC events, Gahl said there are three major problems.

First, bid specifications for either event say the host city would have to raise more than $20 million. Recent host cities have had to raise more than double that. There are, however, large federal grants to handle much of the security costs.

But the RNC and DNC also require host cities to essentially shut down their convention centers for up to 12 weeks to hold the conventions, which typically last four to six days.  

“There are a lot of security measures to put in place and a lot of logistics that take a lot of time to prepare for and set up,” Gahl explained. “Then there’s a considerable tear-down period.”

Back when Visit Indy was considering the 2016 RNC and DNC events, it was deemed that there were simply too many events already on the books during the respective 12-week spans that would need to be canceled.

The RNC and DNC typically occur in July or August, and shutting down the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium during the late spring and summer would conflict with dozens of events the city hosts, such as the Indiana Black Expo, Do It Best Corp. convention, GenCon and Drum Corps International.

A decade or so ago, hosting a national political convention would have been much more alluring. In the late 1990s, the city made a serious bid to host the 2000 RNC. Indianapolis eventually lost that event to Philadelphia, and it was seen as a huge loss.

But now that Indianapolis has grown its convention business considerably, the logistics to clear the city’s convention center and football stadium are much more complicated—and costly. City officials said the decision to turn down the RNC and DNC was a sign just how big and busy the convention trade had become here.

“It’s a good problem to have when your convention center is already full that far in advance,” Gahl said “We’ve come a long way in building up the tourism infrastructure in this city. A full calendar is what we strive for, and that’s what’s in place through 2020.”

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