CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland, we found out this past week, has been named one of four finalists to host the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Based on past efforts to land this big of a show, as well as on the logistical challenges involved, experts say it’s best not to get our hopes too high for this one.
Cleveland is competing against Minneapolis (it helped its sister city St. Paul, Minn., do the job ably with the Republican National Convention in 2008), St. Louis (which has a domed stadium contiguous to its convention center) and Charlotte, N.C., which has a convention center and arena and plenty of hotel rooms in a concentrated area.
On a symbolic level, though, Cleveland works. “If the party wants to make the statement of choosing a swing state, then Cleveland makes sense,” says Edward “Ned” Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.
Heywood Sanders, a University of Texas professor who’s a research specialist on the impact of conventions, agrees with that part.
“Parties go to a place they view as important and/or in a swing state, and where they feel there’s some level of support.
“And Cleveland is a functional symbolic statement about the need to boost the economies of older manufacturing cities that are hard hit by the recession and foreclosures.”
It sure is. That’s why President Barack Obama has become a fairly frequent visitor to Northeast Ohio.
But can Cleveland pull off getting a convention, and would we want to?
Sanders says probably not to both questions.
First, there’s still the same lack of hotel space that cost us political conventions in decades past — though new hotels have been built since the 1990s, Cleveland still doesn’t have a 1,000-room convention hotel, and the hotel landscape won’t hugely change in the next two years.
And how would we pay for the costs related to a national convention, including huge security costs? The host committee for Denver, site of the 2008 DNC, reported raising $60 million to stage it.
“If you win you face some serious issues — you just have to look at the dramatic security needs the G-20 summit called for in Toronto,” says Sanders. “The [Q] arena you’ve got is perfectly fine, but the city would bear much of the cost for security, for management, for cleanup.
“Cleveland already has a difficult fiscal situation, and one hopes it would be better in two years, but who can say?”
In fact, he says, that’s why a lot of cities aren’t even throwing their hats in the ring. “From what I know, cities like Atlanta, New York, Boston, San Diego didn’t even try.”
There’s been definite good news in the recent past when it comes to drawing events to Cleveland. The area where the city can point to success in recent years is mostly in bringing large sporting events and competitions here.
David Gilbert, president of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, reports recent coups that include the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in 2000 and 2009; the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in 2002; the International Childrens’ Games in 2004; the Gravity Games in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and the NCAA Women’s Final Four was here in 2007.
You have to go back to 1997, though, a stellar year that had both the Major League Baseball and NBA All Star games here. Those tend to take awhile to come around again, says Gilbert, because all cities with teams want their turn.
We’ll have the Senior Games in 2013 and the Gay Games in 2014. A big miss? The Special Olympics for 2011.