Cleveland taking the Spotlight: Insight into the upcoming Republican National Convention and Student Interest in Politics

The city of Cleveland has been going through a major restoration over the past 10 years. With the recent influx of over four billion dollars in renovations and construction in the downtown area, Cleveland is positioning itself firmly in the national spotlight for years to come. The city sees hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention as an opportunity to capture the nation’s attention. Having gone through months of bipartisan lobbying in an effort to land the role as the host of the assembly that will declare the Republican candidate for presidency, Cleveland finally availed against the contending city of Dallas.

 

This courtship with the Republican Party, also referred to as the Grand old Party, or the GOP for short, dates back to at least February, when the city originally submitted its bid. Cleveland was selected a week later as one of eight contenders. Enid Mickelsen, chairwoman of the RNC’s site selection committee, said in a written statement: “Cleveland is a phenomenal city, and I can’t think of a better place to showcase our party and our nominee in 2016.”

 

What makes Cleveland such an attractive city are the preparations and improvements that have gone into the city leading up to the decision. David Gilbert of Positively Cleveland claims, “There were a number of factors that were important in a decision by the RNC – facilities (our new convention center and numerous hotels were an important factor), fundraising, transportation, and ability to host major events.” Cleveland possesses all the necessary operations including utilities and facilities, but Robert Frost, Chairman of the Republican Party in Cuyahoga County suggests there is more to it: “[O]ther cities had those advantages as well; what makes Cleveland so unique is our people. From those formally involved who helped put together the bid and plan the site visits, to the people on the street and in the venues that the site selection team met, every one gave the genuine impression that all of Greater Cleveland wants the Republican Convention and will work to make it great.” In other words, our additional advantage is the energy, ambition, and teamwork of our community. Additionally, the RNC pointed out that although Dallas invited more money and contained more hospitality options, Ohio could drive more key voters to the party. After all, we are indeed a swing state.

 

In order to accommodate the large influx of visitors that is anticipated for the RNC, Cleveland has been adding on more and more hotel space, including the historic four-star Renaissance Cleveland Hotel. The massive Convention Center downtown is one of the more recent installations, with a “750,000-square-foot exhibit hall floor and 35 meeting rooms” (“Cleveland 2016”). There is also the Public Auditorium and Conference Center, with a seating capacity of 10,000 in addition to more meeting rooms as well.  The Quicken Loans Arena will be the main venue for the convention and was an instrumental factor in Cleveland’s selection for the RNC. After the Arena opens in June, Cleveland will be able to host multiple events at once.

 

According to Cleveland.com, Cleveland will need to raise between  $55 million and $60 million to cover the costs of hosting. Cleveland at one point lobbied to hold the Democratic National Convention in addition to the Republican National Convention, but the plan was scrapped because it would not have been feasible for Cleveland to host both conventions this year.

 

There will be long-term benefits to hosting the RNC because of the positive media attention we will receive as the center of a controversial and anticipated presidential election. It will also serve to set a precedent for Cleveland to host big events in the future.  Some of the country’s most influential and powerful companies and interest groups will be spending a lot of time in Cleveland giving us the opportunity to showcase all our city has to offer and encourage these individuals to invest in the city. Put simply, this is a great opportunity for Cleveland from a business standpoint, as conventions can be significant revenue generators for a city. When asked about how the RNC will help local schools, Gilbert responded with, “Hosting the RNC will infuse $250 million into the local economy and greatly help change the local and national perception of Cleveland. This will help create jobs and taxes in the short and long-term, which will ultimately help our schools. As the planning gets into full gear, we will certainly be looking for opportunities for student engagement,” so CSU students (as well as other Cleveland-based students) should keep their eyes open for any opportunities that may arise for this upcoming event.

 

However, there are those who suggest that the convention will not help Cleveland as much as we think it will. Many studies have been done in attempt to decide definitively whether or not the host cities of mega events will actually benefit the city long-term. The 2004 and 2008 national conventions did contribute between $155 million to $265 million to their host regions, according to city and political-committee estimates. However, all this profit does not necessarily mean direct economic prosperity. In a 2009 study, Victor Matheson, an associate professor at the College of the Holy Cross, reviewed the national political conventions hosted between 1972 and 2004. The study found that none of the 18 conventions held over that time had any impact on personal income or local employment in their host cities. “There’s no statistically significant evidence that national political conventions make substantial economic contributions to cities,” argues Douglas Frechtling, chairman of George Washington University’s Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management. Philip Porter, a professor at the University of South Florida who studies the economic impacts of such large events, claims that many of the businesses involved in direct selling are actually forced to close down because of traffic issues or because they may be deemed security hazards. Yet, one still can’t ignore the big picture and what hosting cities gain overall. They gain the spotlight. They gain a national audience. And they gain some extra cash flow. Looking back at the most recent convention, the 2012 GOP, one study showed that it pumped more than $200 million into the Tampa, Florida economies. Additionally, the convention drew roughly 50,000 visitors. So while there may not be any significant changes directly affecting personal income, there will still be money leaking into the city as well as social attention from businesses and tourists.

 

Although the Republican National Convention will not be held in Cleveland until June or July of 2016, preparations are a continual progress. According to Gilbert, “The most important thing now is finalizing the formation of the Host Committee, the non-profit organization formed to manage the fundraising and local coordination of the effort.” In other words, the first steps that Cleveland should take seem to be to raise money for the big event and organize local businesses to ensure that everyone will be ready. For anyone owning all or a part of a local Cleveland business, it would be beneficial to start thinking of ways to be more marketable during the convention.

 

Of course the RNC itself is preparing as well. Gilbert says that they will form a “Committee on Arrangements” early on next year, which will “plan and execute the actual convention.” Additionally, the RNC seems to have a specific goal while they are in Cleveland: to attract a younger and more diverse demographic. They are planning to bring in their own young and diverse team members in order to promote this agenda and appeal to their specific targets.

 

Frost keeps us up to date on when these committees will begin to unfold: “The first official meeting of the full Host Committee will take place in October, and the RNC’s Committee on Arrangements will not be formed until the 1st Quarter of 2015.”

 

Cleveland has a lot to look forward to in the near future. As long as there is a continuous effort to work together on preparations for the convention and improvements for the city, there is great potential. Frost suggests that we can expect “an elevated image both nationally and internationally. That in turn will lead to further tourism, investment, and economic development in our city and our region.” Gilbert adds, “It will be a very exciting time for our city. About 50,000 attendees are expected, including 15,000 credentialed media from around the world.  In fact, it is the most covered media event in the world outside of the Olympic Games. We have a tremendous opportunity to change how the world views our city!”

 

What do CSU students think about all of this? Are CSU students even interested in politics at all? A survey was sent out around Cleveland State University and 100 people responded, with 87 students and 13 other Cleveland residents. One of the first questions asked if they were interested in watching or hearing about the upcoming Republican National Convention, and besides the 20 who responded “somewhat,” the rest were almost evenly divided between “yes” and “no.” When asked what political party they associated with, nearly half responded “Democrat.” The second highest answer for that question was not Republican, but “no political stance.” Many who had no political stance or responded “other” later explained that they are either simply not interested in politics, or that they are not educated enough in the subject of politics to firmly identify with one side or the other. The idea of having no political stance seems to have become a rather popular view, at least for these CSU students, and some said that they do not label themselves as Republican or Democrat because they don’t like either one. On the other hand, many can’t choose to commit to one party because they feel both parties have “valid points” of argument. As one student said, “Not everything is in black and white. I affiliate myself with those who have good ideologies and beliefs/goals that I believe would be beneficial to our society” which suggests that it is better to keep an open-mind and choose according to the beliefs and values of the party, rather than the name of the party. Additionally, some students are looking into independent parties that don’t get as much recognition. Thankfully, more than half of the participants claim they vote. The answer was split down the middle when asked if they think that more Cleveland residents will vote Republican after this convention. Most Cleveland residents are Democrats, so it will be interesting to see what happens in terms of an increasing population of Republicans. Surprisingly, many said that they would not or “probably not” accept an opportunity like an internship or job related to assisting with the RNC; from this, it could be assumed that either most of the participants are Democrat or that most of the participants are simply not into politics. The last question required respondents to estimate, on a scale of one to ten, how much they think hosting the RNC will help Cleveland, and most agreed that it will truly benefit our city. Although some said the effects will only be temporary, a majority of the responses to this question were very positive, and most said it will help Cleveland economically. One student mentioned that it will educate people about the Republican Party, and, more importantly, there were many who said that it will provide Cleveland with a national spotlight, increasing the value of the city.

 

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