Kansas City makes latest cut for GOP 2016 convention

05/22/2014 2:14 PM

05/22/2014 8:20 PM

This thing is getting serious.

After 18 months of work — goody bags, videos, cross-country travel, even the mayor publicly warbling its signature tune — Kansas City on Thursday reached the finals of a competition for the 2016 Republican National Convention.

GOP officials narrowed the list of convention competitors to Kansas City, Cleveland, Denver and Dallas. All will receive visits from the party’s site selection committee next month, with a final choice expected in late summer.

“These four cities stood out from the field from the start of this process,” committee chairwoman Enid Mickelsen said in a statement.

Two cities — Las Vegas and Cincinnati — withdrew from consideration, Mickelsen said, citing concerns about their arenas. Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, were eliminated in April.

Kansas City officials were ecstatic.

“We believe we are appropriately there, that they made a good choice,” Mayor Sly James told reporters. “And we believe to this day that we have the best option for them.”

The four remaining cities will now engage in an intricate dance with Republican officials over the details, and politics, of the convention choice.

There are nine full members and four alternates on the site selection committee. None is from a state with a potential convention city.

They’ll likely spend two days in each city in June, exploring hotel space, transit and meeting rooms, and talking about the $50 million to $60 million the host city is expected to provide for the event. Some public money — including $5 million from the state — may be mixed with private donations.

“You need to be putting up all the good features of the city you’re promoting,” said Helen Van Etten, a GOP national committeewoman from Kansas and a member of the last site selection committee.

“That’s a very critical thing,” she said. “Sometimes these are emotional decisions, your impression of how the delegates will see a city.”

The site selection committee will recommend a convention venue to the full Republican National Committee, which is expected to ratify the choice in late summer or early fall.

“Kansas City has strengths,” former U.S. representative and GOP national committeeman Todd Tiahrt said in an email. “The central location, transportation plan and more than sufficient facilities all weigh in our favor.”

Each of the four remaining cities has advantages — and challenges, Republicans say.

Kansas City’s Sprint Arena is just big enough. Its location across from the Power & Light District is expected to impress the party. The city’s central location is also considered a plus.

At the same time, the lack of close-in hotel space is an issue here. It’s also the only community in the final four without significant commuter rail transit.

Dallas is expected to raise the most money of the four cities, and Texas is typically Republican. But it, like Denver and Cleveland, has expressed some nervousness about the GOP’s convention timetable.

All three cities have NBA teams that may need arena space in May 2016 if they qualify for the playoffs. Republicans have said they’ll probably want access to the host city’s arena in late April to prepare for a convention in June.

Denver may lose points because Colorado recently legalized recreational marijuana sales — a concern for some in the GOP — and because the state has trended Democratic. Cleveland may struggle to raise money in a Democratic stronghold.

At the same time, Cleveland is in Ohio, a state considered crucial to the GOP’s 2016 hopes.

Bringing the convention to Kansas City would mean millions of dollars, invaluable publicity and a chance for the community to pop its buttons before the world.

More than 45,000 people would probably attend — visitors who would stay in hotels, shop, eat and drink at restaurants and visit museums and attractions. It would provide temporary construction, installation and catering jobs and additional local tax revenue.

But it would also mean an increased police presence and disruptions for local residents.

Kansas City officials have already started talking about the need for a downtown security perimeter for the convention, which could close access to about 70 downtown blocks. Some parts of the downtown loop would likely be closed, including the highway under Bartle Hall, where the world’s media would potentially gather.

The city might also be asked to pass special ordinances to accommodate the convention. In 2012, Tampa, Fla.’s mayor proposed an ordinance to close some city parks overnight and ban “knives, axes, Mace and clubs” in them.

But those potential headaches seemed far from the minds of convention planners here, who spent Thursday suiting up for the semifinals of the competition.

Kansas City is “a lot more than barbecue and the Royals,” James said, referring to at least one beloved institution.

“We believe we will be able to show that this city is where they need to be in 2016.”

Four reasons the final cities could land the GOP convention:

1. Dallas: Big money

2. Denver: Prior experience

3. Cleveland: Ohio a swing state

4. Kansas City: Sprint Center available in May

Four reasons they miss out:

1. Dallas: Difficult timetable

2. Denver: Legal marijuana

3. Cleveland: Tough to raise money

4. Kansas City: Not enough close-in hotel space

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