Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Bidding for Democratic National Convention

What will the city pitch to Democratic Party?

By - Feb 21st, 2018 01:28 pm
DNC 2020 Bid Committee and Friends. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

DNC 2020 Bid Committee and Friends. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

New arena. New hotels. New streetcar. Revitalized downtown. All in a pivotal swing state.

Those items will be at the core of Milwaukee’s pitch for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. The city, through a committee chaired by Milwaukee Bucks vice president Alex Lasry, is making the bid. Milwaukee is the first city to announce publicly their intent to land the convention.

“There is nothing that Milwaukee doesn’t have that any of the top tiers cities have. Yet we are consistently left out of the conversations when it comes to company relocations and best places to live. By winning this bid we think that we will show that Milwaukee is a place that needs to be talked about,” said Lasry at a press conference announcing the bid.

“I guess I’m old enough to have gone to a couple of these conventions,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore. “So I know everything that went wrong in some of these cites. I can tell you that we have learned from those mistakes. We will have the transportation assets, the room assets and all of the human resources we need to make this the best convention the Democratic National Committee has ever had.”

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said: “I am here representing the green party. That is the opportunity the convention presents to bring tens of thousands people to the city to spend money and create jobs.” An affiliate of the MMAC is serving as the fiscal agent for the effort.

“Whether we’re bidding for the Democratic convention or the Republican convention, I’m certainly going to make the argument that you want to be here,” said Mayor Tom Barrett. He said the city’s location in a swing state gives it extra importance to both parties.

But hosting the convention in a swing state isn’t a guarantee of securing the state’s electoral votes. The 2008 Republican National Convention was held in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the state still went to Democrat Barack Obama. Similarly, the 2012 Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte, North Carolina and Republican Mitt Romney ended up carrying the state.

Barrett, a Democrat, said in addition to the swing state status the city is well situated because of the growth Downtown and the growing number of hotels in the region. He said his experience at the 2016 Democratic convention in Philadelphia showed him that suburban hotels will be an asset because Milwaukee doesn’t have the traffic issues that other cities have. “We’re very, very confident that we have the hotel rooms and that was one of the stumbling blocks we have had in previous years,” said Barrett.

The committee will need to raise between $750,000 and $1 million to formally make the bid, and Lasry says they are well on the way there. He estimates the final cost will be between $50 million to $80 million, with the national party and other non-local organizations contributing millions to the effort.

The Milwaukee bid will be reviewed this summer by an eight to 10 person team from the national party according to Lasry. The convention is expected to make a $200 million economic impact.

The Philadelphia convention, held in late July 2016, attracted approximately 50,000 attendees, including 4,763 delegates. Among those delegates were Moore, Barrett and Lasry. The federal government allocated $43 million to the city for security purposes. The 2016 Republican National Convention was held in Cleveland.

Lasry’s father, hedge fund operator Marc Lasry, is co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and a prominent Democratic donor. His son, a Milwaukee resident since the acquisition of the Bucks, said “I don’t think any single person can swing the committee” and went on to note that there are bigger donors to the party than his father.

Absent from the list of necessities is an expanded convention center. While Lasry says it would be nice to have, the proposed $225 million expansion isn’t part of what the city will pitch.

In response to a question, Barrett said that the convention could serve as a catalyst for extending the streetcar to the arena. In 2016 the city approved a financing plan to extend the streetcar to the arena, but it relied on a federal grant that has not been awarded. The infrastructure proposal from President Donald Trump would eliminate the popular TIGER grant program that the project is budgeted to rely on.

The Milwaukee Bucks are also bidding on the NBA All-Star game in 2022 and 2023.

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More about the DNC

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11 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: City Bidding for Democratic National Convention”

  1. Terry says:

    What should they pitch? Um, how about what a whole lot of us said in 2016 “Maybe if you actually show up in the state and you know, campaign here (unlike Hillary) the state won’t be conned and suckered and vote for Trump?!” Novel idea Democrats! BTW, Wasserman Schultz screwing Bern dog out of the nomination was a disaster for the country and now the entire world. Thanks Debbie!

  2. WashCoRepub says:

    If Milwaukee lands it, I’d recommend the vendors insist on up-front payments for major items. Most reports I see say the DNC is essentially broke.

  3. Troll says:

    If Milwaukee is truly open for business they would compete for both parties

  4. Terry says:

    @Russian Troll, We agree! Walker’s Wississippi is closed for business! Imagine that!? A Career Politician since he was 22 years old, who has never worked a single day in his adult life in the private sector or “free market” can’t figure out how to run an ACTUAL economy!

    Dump Trump
    Dump Walker
    Free Wisconsin!!

  5. Mike says:

    I just hope this doesn’t result in us putting more public money into convention space. I’d love if we sold that surface lot on Kilbourne that they want to expand on to, and let that get developed into something that’s actually active 24/7, instead of expanding an already monolithic building. If they did that, plus redevelop the current Bradley center lot, and come up with a way to make the McArthur square actually connect to the street grid, westown could be pretty vibrant.

  6. PMD says:

    The MMAC and Tim Sheehy, who supports Walker, is behind this. Ask him why they aren’t going after RNC.

  7. GRNPAKWH says:

    Hidden in this article is the expansion of the convention center.This underused building cannot even find a sponsor. Marc Lasry loved to spend our tax dollars for his benefit. I’ll drive to Chicago for the convention.

  8. max says:

    Anyone know what the GOP is planning for their convention, Moscow? St Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, formerly Petrograd, formerly a swamp connected to the Baltic? Or maybe Volgograd, formerly Stanlingrad?

  9. MidnightSon says:

    Appreciating the thoughtful comments here, despite the inevitable trolls.

    Yeah, I hear what some say about convention center expansion being a part of this move. Instead, I think this is more about getting a naming sponsor for the new Bucks arena. There was an article just yesterday in the Milwaukee Business Journal that speculated that it is getting a little late in the game for the Bucks not to have found a naming sponsor. (Ha! Someone was quoted as saying that not having a sponsor sewn up by now was “atypical,” but “not unusual.” Talk about mincing words!) This could simply be about hoping for it, and at least continuing to get Milwaukee’s name out there. I mean, you’re either on the list, or you aren’t.

    I think Milwaukee has a much better chance of landing this that of landing Amazon’s HQ2. We don’t have the hotel rooms, convention space or infrastructure of some cities. But, we have some and, to its credit, Milwaukee sure does know how to throw a party!

  10. Mike says:

    @midnightson, that’s an interesting observation.
    hopefully true.

    Re: convention center. I don’t see any outcome with an expanded convention center that improves quality of place for MKE residents. On the otherhand, there is an awful lot we could do with those dollars across the city/county still in the scope of the mandate to improve tourism. Eg. We’ve got so many festivals that are doing so much on boot strap budgets, that with 100k here and there we could add pretty major touring acts every weekend through the summer to them. Plus bring in the biggest art exhibits to MAM, etc. Plus test out tons of fun ideas: an annual domestic olympics, pond hockey championships on lake michigan, water skiing or sail events, etc. Etc.

    With the 15 million or so we would need to dump into the convention center each year to service those bonds, we could try out a lot of ideas for 5-10 years, and if it doesn’t work, then do the lame convention center expansion.

  11. Virginia says:

    A push to eventually land a major political convention could benefit Milwaukee if it includes significant efforts to revitalize Downtown’s public spaces, whixh Cleveland did…

    “The other was the way in which visitors and police were able to use [Cleveland’s] streetscapes, parks and other civic infrastructure that has taken decades to build, and without which the convention would have been inconceivable.”

    In any case, improving Milwaukee’s public realm will pay off beyond one big week.

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