Milwaukee wins 2020 Democratic National Convention

Published Monday, March 11, 2019
by Milwaukee Business Journal

Milwaukee has won its long-shot bid for the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez selected Milwaukee “in a key battleground state” Wisconsin that nominee Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. The convention is scheduled for July 13-16, 2020. 

Milwaukee was a finalist along with Houston and Miami, which are much bigger metro areas with larger convention and hotel facilities. It will be the first-ever major national party convention in Wisconsin, according to a press release Monday.

Leaders of Milwaukee’s bid included Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin).

The convention will be a significant economic boost to the city of Milwaukee. Initial estimates are for more than 50,000 visitors and an estimated $200 million impact on the region, according to the press release.

"This selection is the result of an incredible collective effort to progress Milwaukee’s revitalization and status as a premier global destination," read a statement released by Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin and Fiserv Forum, which will host the major events of the convention. "The state-of-the-art venue will offer best-in-class hospitality, technology and accessibility for the thousands of visitors coming to our city, making for a seamless experience throughout the entire event. We thank the Democratic National Committee for recognizing that Fiserv Forum and Milwaukee will provide the ideal setting for the Democratic National Convention.”

A statement from the Waukesha County Business Alliance envisions the entire region benefiting from the convention. The event will reportedly require 15,000 hotel rooms, and with 5,000 rooms available in downtown Milwaukee, the Interstate 94 corridor in Waukesha County and its 3,500 hotel rooms can help fill the gap.

 “A win for Milwaukee is a win for Waukesha County and vice versa,” said Suzanne Kelley, president and CEO of the Waukesha County Business Alliance. “We’re all working together to build a strong region in southeast Wisconsin.” 

The 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia reportedly drew 54,000 people and $231 million worth of economic activity. About $132.9 million in direct convention-related spending, and $11.1 million in local and state taxes, were generated, according to the Tourism Economics DNC Economic Impact report released in 2017.

The final economic impact in Philadelphia was lower than expectations heading into the 2016 event, but tourism experts say the impact of such a major national event carries benefits beyond the event itself.

“The DNC generated massive publicity and media exposure for Philadelphia, which translated into significant increases in engagement with prospective travelers and the travel trade," according to the report from Tourism Economics, a travel and tourism research firm with a regional headquarters in Philadelphia.

The 2012 convention, hosted by Charlotte, North Carolina, produced an economic impact of $163.6 million and attracted 35,000 delegates, reporters and other visitors, Tourism Economics reported in 2013. It was the single largest event in the city’s history, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.

To host the 2020 Democratic National Convention, city of Milwaukee host committee leaders will need to raise tens of millions of dollars to finance the event. A half-dozen or more major Milwaukee-area corporations contributed financially to Milwaukee’s bid proposal, said Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy. He said he couldn’t identify them but he anticipates their names will be revealed “as time goes on.”

Sheehy credited Lasry with leading the fundraising efforts. 

“I don’t think this happens without Alex Lasry,” Sheehy said. “He’s really done a lion’s share of the work raising the funds.”

Lasry’s father — Milwaukee Bucks' majority owner Marc Lasry — Bucks owner Jamie Dinan and Milwaukee Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio were among the wealthy Democratic donors who promised to raise $60 million to $70 million toward Milwaukee hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2020.

Philadelphia's host committee raised more than $85 million for the 2016 convention, according to a financial report filed with the Federal Election Commission after the event.

Alex Lasry has said Milwaukee funds would be raised nationally — and not just in Wisconsin — for staging the convention.

A Wisconsin Democratic Party source also credited Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for working tirelessly on Milwaukee’s bid, including calling hotels, raising money and maneuvering through party politics.

“The mayor saw the impact,” the source said. “He’s been at conventions since the '80s. He fought for it.”

Monday's announcement of the convention location broke shortly after Barrett concluded his 2019 state of the city address in Fiserv Forum.

“This is a great day for the city of Milwaukee and for the state of Wisconsin,” Barrett said in a press release. “Milwaukee is a first-class city, and we are ready to showcase Milwaukee on one of the largest stages in the world.”

Reaction to the news largely focused on how the convention will put the city of Milwaukee in the national and global spotlight, elevating the city's image.

“The convention represents a tremendous opportunity for Milwaukee and Wisconsin to be on the world stage,” Gov. Tony Evers said. “This is the chance to show the world what Wisconsin truly is: a great place to live, work, and visit.”

The last time the Democratic Party held its national convention in the Midwest was in 1996 in Chicago.

“There is no better place to showcase the Democratic Party’s vision for the future than in Wisconsin,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) said. “The Midwest is a critical battleground and will be key to securing a better future for America.”

In a statement, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning said the entire Milwaukee business community can come together around the convention.

"This will be a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity for Milwaukee and its citizens," Laning said. "With the collaboration of Milwaukee’s corporate community, the nonprofit sector, the small business community, and engaged Milwaukeeans, we are confident Milwaukee 2020 will be a world-class event that makes Wisconsinites proud." 

Reaction to the news was also swift from labor unions in the Milwaukee area. Dean Warsh, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 494, thanked DNC Chairman Perez for selecting the city and expressed his appreciation for the efforts of local leaders in making the selection possible.

"Milwaukee is on the move, and our success in building the future represents the best of America," Warsh said in a statement. "Organized labor in Milwaukee, and throughout Wisconsin, are committed to making the Convention here a great success.”

Dan Bukiewicz, president of Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, said the selection "elevates the city to a new level in national and world stature."

"We have an unmatched opportunity to show the world what a beautiful, energetic, innovative and diverse city that labor is building in Milwaukee," Bukiewicz said in a statement.


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