What now? KC asks, after GOP picks other cities for 2016 convention

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City boosters quietly folded the bunting and packed away the party favors Wednesday — then launched a difficult inquiry into why their two-year bid for the 2016 Republican National Convention fell short.

The GOP’s early afternoon announcement eliminating Kansas City and Denver from convention consideration surprised some city officials. They’d been confident for weeks that Kansas City would make the final cut.

Instead, after a six-hour meeting in Washington, D.C., the Republican party’s site selection committee decided the gathering would go to either Dallas or Cleveland in 2016.

There were several early explanations for that decision:

Kansas City’s relative lack of enough high-quality hotel rooms close to the Sprint Center.

The city’s potential struggle to raise $60 million for the event.

Poor rail transit.

Some officials, on the other hand, said Kansas City simply fell short because of strong bids from the communities still in the running: Cleveland, from the competitive presidential state of Ohio, and Dallas, from GOP-rich Texas.

“The competition was tough,” said Brenda Tinnen, chairwoman of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association. “There are politics involved in these decisions. … I’m not sure that there was any one thing that said, ‘OK, this city is better than that city.’”

GOP site selection committee chairwoman Enid Mickelsen said the two remaining cities “know how to roll out the welcome mat.” In an email, a Republican National Committee official said the committee “really liked KC” but offered no further explanation of the party’s reasons for eliminating it from consideration.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James, in Denver for a meeting Wednesday, said the city’s convention task force was “extremely disappointed” by the GOP’s decision.

“But not disappointed with our effort,” James’ statement said. “We are winners today because we competed and made a compelling case for Kansas City.”

The committee’s meeting left Kansas City officials on the edge of their seats for several hours Wednesday, sorting through tweets, emails, and trading rumors about the group’s deliberations.

The party made its decision public shortly after lunch. It ended a nearly two-year lobbying effort that may eventually cost Kansas City area taxpayers and donors more than $300,000.

Officials prepared videos, held news conferences, set up information booths at GOP gatherings, established a website and engaged public relations experts to persuade the party to hold its first convention here since 1976.

During the site selection committee visit in early June, Kansas City offered fireworks, skyscraper milkshakes and a surprise pitch from former vice president Dick Cheney. The host committee provided police protection worth more than $40,000 for the visit.

The city also offered access to the Sprint Center for the party’s preferred June 2016 convention time period — a “nice little nugget,” GOP chairman Reince Priebus said at the time.

Perhaps too little.

“The committee extends our sincere thanks and gratitude to Denver and Kansas City for their hard work and dedication to this effort,” Mickelsen’s statement said.

But hard work and dedication may have been less important than physical reality, some local officials said. Convention delegates faced long rides on buses to reach the sparkling downtown arena — a setup that proved disastrous in Tampa, Fla., in 2012, when some conventioneers sat for hours waiting for post-session transportation.

Indeed, the GOP decision is expected to increase public discussion of a convention hotel downtown, a project on Kansas City’s to-do list for years.

“I hope it will clearly lead the way for a serious, ongoing effort related to a convention hotel,” said former Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes. “It should.”

Yet it isn’t clear if building a convention hotel would be enough to lure a national political convention in 2020 or beyond, some said. And the investment might not be worth the return even if the GOP or the Democrats decide to come here another year.

That suggests the Republicans’ decision won’t necessarily increase public pressure for a taxpayer-assisted downtown convention hotel, they argued.

“The people distinguish between needs and wants,” said Dan Cofran, a former mayoral candidate who now runs the Citizens Association civic group. “A convention hotel? Clearly a ‘want.’ I don’t think it even makes it out of the gate.”

The party’s choice of Dallas was not a surprise. The city has more hotel rooms, and its mass transit system is considered more robust.

Cleveland seemed a less likely finalist. But it offers newer hotel rooms downtown, mass transit and potentially cooler temperatures for delegates.

Leaders in both cities applauded the GOP decision, which should be finalized in August.

Kansas City’s argument that it alone could provide convention space for the party’s preferred June 2016 time frame was not persuasive.

The convention task force also tried to link Ronald Reagan’s appearance at the 1976 Kansas City convention to the 2016 gathering.

That, too, failed to persuade the committee.

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

Why the Republicans likely walked away

Lack of quality, close-in hotel rooms

Commuting distance for some delegates

Fundraising concerns

Missouri, Kansas not competitive presidential states

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