Kansas City fights to land 2016 Republican National Convention

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - With millions of dollars and the national spotlight on the line, Mayor Sly James led a delegation to the Republican National Convention's summer meeting in Boston on Wednesday. Sly lobbied the Republican Party to bring their 2016 convention to Kansas City.

Wednesday's presentation and an evening reception for GOP officials mark the second formal contact between a bi-state coalition of Kansas City business and civic leaders, also including Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Mark Holland and Republican leadership about bringing Kansas City its first political convention since 1976.

"This is a natural progression for Kansas City," James said. "We're building and building on our resume of hosting big events and on every big event that we've hosted the people have absolutely loved it."

James said the metro area's success in hosting Major League Baseball's all-star game in 2012 and last month's MLS all-star game proves that Kansas City is ready to land an even bigger prize.

"Now we're going to have an opportunity to host the Republican all-stars. We're an all-star city and we're hosting all-star people all the time," James said.

Two people familiar with the Kansas City bid, which is in its early stages, said the Sprint Center would be the primary convention location. One of those people also said the convention center could be transformed into a media center and the downtown Marriott could host Republican leadership.

Media, 50,000 delegates and other visitors are expected to attend the 2016 convention, on par with Tampa in 2012. That event cost upwards of $55 million dollars to produce, mostly from private donations. So far, James said he was unable to ballpark the cost of hosting 2016 in the Kansas City region.

"I can tell you that the fundraising efforts are already underway. We have pledges," James said. "I have no problems or no thoughts that we're going to have any difficulty meeting that goal. We're going to be fine there. All we need is for the Republican National Committee to say yes, and we're ready to rock and roll." 

Between today's presentation and "yes," come other obstacles. The Kansas City area has only 32,000 hotel rooms to host those 50,000 anticipated guests. James expressed confidence other hotels in the region could absorb visitors, as happened in Tampa (which has only 24,000 rooms).

Kansas City must also work against the trend in both parties of late to locate their conventions in swing or target states. Florida is a perennial swing state¬¬   and regular convention host. Last summer, the Democrats staged their convention in Charlotte, a state President Obama narrowly won in 2008, and narrowly lost last fall.

James said he doubted the fact that Kansas and Missouri both regularly fall into the Republican column would hurt Kansas City's bid.

"We are I think well-positioned to offer them what they need, which is a backdrop of stability and confidence and competency for them to host their convention," James said.

If the RNC moves its convention up in the calendar to June, as has been rumored, that too could help Kansas City's bid, according to GOP strategist Annie Presley. She managed New York's successful convention bid in 2004.

Presley pointed out that other cities rumored to be interested in the convention, including New Orleans and Phoenix, have NBA teams who would have contracts with their home arenas through the end of the NBA playoffs.

"Kansas City's stock is definitely trending up, particularly if they do change that date to an earlier time, it really helps us get to the top of that list," Presley said.

Las Vegas, too, has openly expressed interest in landing the GOP convention, a possibility Presley dismissed.

"I think Sin City always struggles getting either the Democrats or the Republicans to come there for conventions because people don't want to deal with that aspect of the fun Vegas offers," she said.

The convention, Presley said, is a major economic prize which will likely be fought over until this winter, at the very least.

"Tampa enjoyed about $175 million in economic impact and that would be huge for Kansas City. The vendors, the hoteliers, the restaurateurs. Everyone here. It would be giant. And they have been going after it in a big way," she said.

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