KC goes all-in for 2016 Republican National Convention

06/05/2014 10:15 PM

06/05/2014 11:10 PM

Kansas City turned on its brightest lights Thursday for the committee picking a site for the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Fireworks. A balloon drop. Classy cuisine. Someone — it isn’t clear who — covered up the “Totally Nude” sign on Grand Boulevard, along the committee’s travel route.

A little morning rain? A minor nuisance.

“You have a beautiful city,” Enid Mickelsen, the site selection committee chairwoman, told reporters at midday. “It’s very clear to us that this is an all-in effort by your community, and that means a lot to us.”

That all-in effort was clearly visible Thursday, as local convention organizers escorted the 13-member selection committee and other GOP officials through parts of the community.

But Mickelsen and Reince Priebus, the party’s chairman, declined to award a clear advantage to any of the four cities still competing for the convention. The committee visited Cleveland earlier this week, and will kick the tires in Denver and Dallas next.

“It comes down to, number one, the hotels,” Priebus said. “The arena. And the ability to raise the money.”

Kansas City convention boosters provided significant news on at least one of those fronts Thursday.

Convention task force co-chairman Troy Stremming said the city has raised nearly $30 million in cash and in-kind commitments for convention costs, roughly half the amount it must provide to host the gathering.

“We feel very good about where we’re at,” Stremming said.

Full convention financing is critical. Priebus and Mickelsen said Thursday the party will not select a convention city that merely promises to meet a fund-raising target; instead, they said, the GOP will want firm guarantees to defray the convention’s expenses.

Other cities — notably Dallas — are thought to have already obtained substantial financing commitments.

The availability of the Sprint Center may help Kansas City’s bid.

Priebus said the party is focusing on two possible starting dates for its four-day convention: June 27 and July 18 in 2016. Of the two, Priebus said he prefers the earlier date.

Only Kansas City, though, can fully commit its arena to both dates. That’s “a nice little advantage … a nice nugget that Kansas City has in its back pocket,” the party chairman said.

The other competing cities have professional sports franchises that might occupy their convention venues in the spring. The host city must promise to make its arena completely available to the party six weeks before the gavel falls.

Site selection committee members got a look at what a convention in Kansas City might look like at the Sprint Center on Thursday.

Their two-hour tour began with a quick bus ride into the venue, and ended with a video of Ronald Reagan in 1976, state signs planted on the floor, a drop of 10,000 balloons, and a stirring version of “God Bless the U.S.A.” from 12-year old Olivia Sabates of Kansas City.

“Everything showed great,” said Brenda Tinnen, the arena’s general manager.

She and other city officials led Republicans through the College Basketball Experience, then walked across the street for a glance at the KC Live portion of the Power and Light District, where thousands of delegates are expected to gather if Kansas City lands the convention.

From there, a trip to a Plaza restaurant — escorted, yet again, by siren-blaring Kansas City police — and more meetings and discussions.

“The hosts are pulling out all the stops,” Priebus said. “From walking off the plane, to being greeted, to that motorcade. I thought, ‘Wow, you guys all roll like that in Kansas City?’”

The day concluded with a gala dinner at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Three hundred diners, including more than a dozen local, state and federal officeholders, sipped drinks and feasted on a variety of local dishes.

Then: fireworks.

Thursday’s events followed several events Wednesday, including a visit by former Vice President Dick Cheney — and a side trip to Winstead’s, where members loaded up on Skyscraper milkshakes.

A crisp two-day display was important, local convention boosters said. GOP officials have said privately and publicly that a community’s enthusiasm for the event would also be a component of the decision-making process.

“We want to go some place that wants to have us,” Mickelsen said. “The enthusiasm in Kansas City has been tremendous.”

Police escorts and fireworks aside, party officials say they appreciate the expense and effort cities must endure to pursue a national political convention.

There are nine voting members on the committee, including chairwoman Mickelsen, and four alternates. None is from a state with a city in contention for the event.

After next week’s visits to Denver and Dallas, Mickelsen said, competing cities will have another week to submit updated bids to the GOP. The site committee will score the bids, and hopes to provide a recommendation to the full Republican National Committee before it meets in Chicago in August.

It isn’t clear, though, whether the site committee will pick just one winning community. Instead, the GOP may pick two or more cities, then engage in specific contract negotiations before finally deciding on a venue.

Mickelsen said the intent isn’t to play one city’s bid against another’s. “We see it as really trying to refine these final bids,” she said.

It isn’t known whether the winning city will promise to conceal its adult entertainment locations — but at least one venue for Kansas City dancers did just that this week.

The “Totally Nude” sign on Grand Boulevard — just half a block from the Sprint Center video billboard welcoming the Republicans — was covered by what appeared to be a tarp.

City officials said they didn’t know about the covering. Convention officials said the same thing. A bartender inside said she didn’t know who decided to obscure the sign either.

In any case, it was only somewhat successful. The wind lifted the tarp for a time, making the lettering partially viewable — a tease not unlike that offered inside the building.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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