Ohio gets ready to host 2016 Republican National Convention
This July, all eyes will be on Cleveland. Few conventions command the attention of a national political event that will shape one of the most historic elections in U.S. presidential history. And this year’s Republican National Convention (RNC) should be nothing short of incendiary, with political pundits predicting a contentious event.
After Cleveland won the bid to host the event in July 2014, the city has been in overdrive to prepare for the onslaught of spectators, staffers, media, delegates and the nominees themselves. The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee is also anticipating a barrage of protesters hailing from different sides of the Republican Party, and the potential for opposing rallies after the nomination is decided.
But Cleveland couldn’t be more proud to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. The city was chosen over six other potential host cities, including home-state rivals Cincinnati and Columbus. It was a tough decision, as all three cities in the swing-state of Ohio are tenacious contenders with tried-and-true experience when it comes to hosting events of the highest caliber.
According to David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, “National political conventions are the Super Bowl of meetings and conventions; it doesn’t get any bigger and better than this for a meetings and convention destination.”
With thousands of people expected to descend on the city during the prestigious four-day RNC gathering, Destination Cleveland estimates convention-associated visitor spending will top $250 million. However, the full effects remain to be seen as millions of viewers from around the world watch one of the most heated televised events in presidential campaign history. It’s no wonder the RNC is one of the most sought-after bids a major city could win.
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland (Photo courtesy of This is Cleveland)
“A passionate and collaborative effort by the public, private and civic sectors demonstrated just how much Cleveland wanted to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, and that same effort is going into managing the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee,” Gilbert says.
“Hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention is an incredible opportunity for Clevelanders to take pride in what we have built and for the rest of the world to rediscover our city,” he adds.
The RNC will be held at Quicken Loans Arena July 18–21. Known as The Q, the multipurpose venue is visited by more than 2 million guests each year for various events, including NBA Cleveland Cavaliers home games. Approximately 2,470 delegates, 2,302 alternate delegates, 15,000 members of the media and nearly 120 staffers will take over the arena. Altogether, around 50,000 people are expected to visit the Cleveland area during the event.
To hold a convention of such magnitude, Cleveland was tasked with demonstrating its capability. Efforts to revitalize the city’s image were well under way before Cleveland had even placed its bid. Since 2011, Cleveland has been experiencing a $3.5 billion investment in visitor-related infrastructure improvements and public-private partnerships. This includes the new $465 million convention center, which will soon receive a name change to Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland.
Flats East Bank, along the Cuyahoga River, has become the hottest dining and entertainment destination in the city. The $750 million development boasts dozens of new restaurants, nightclubs, a public park and an expansive wooden boardwalk, with even more projects slated for 2016. Public Square, located in the heart of downtown, will open just in time for the Republican convention, with pedestrian-friendly pathways, outdoor cafes, water features and plenty of green space.
A major component of Cleveland’s selection as RNC host was to maintain that it could provide an enjoyable visitor experience, plus adequate transportation, convention and hotel services. To make good on its promise, major construction has been ramped up to deliver five brand-new hotels in time for the political event. This includes the 122-room The Kimpton Schofield Hotel, 189-room Drury Plaza Hotel Cleveland Downtown and 600-room Hilton Cleveland Downtown hotel, which is connected to the convention center.
During the same week as the Republican National Convention, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will hold its 107th Annual Convention in Cincinnati at Duke Energy Convention Center.
It was previously held there in 2008, when President Barack Obama gave one of the key speeches of his own campaign. This year’s convention, July 16–20, holds equal political importance as the NAACP drums up voter registration and outreach efforts during a critical election year.
“There’s no question that Cincinnati is a convention city, especially for large, high-profile meetings and events,” says Dan Lincoln, president and CEO of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’ve built a reputation as one of the country’s top host destinations for multicultural meetings and events. For example, when the NAACP holds their national convention, we helped coordinate the event to ensure that they would also wrap up the same weekend as the Cincinnati Music Festival, the second-largest African American music festival in the country.”
In recent years, Cincinnati has become a fierce contender in the meetings sphere, embracing high-profile events such as the 2015 MLB All-Star Game with a surge of local pride that in turn fuels the attendee experience. Last year, Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a tourism ambassador program, which has already certified more than 800 residents to welcome visitors with a local slice of Queen City.
Cincinnati Streetcar (Photo by 5chw4r7z via Flickr Commons)
Cincinnati has invested more than $2 billion in downtown and Riverfront development, including improved transit service. When the Cincinnati Streetcar project was first proposed in 2007, it immediately faced strong opposition from city council members, Mayor John Cranley and even Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also a presidential nominee.
But after overcoming anti-rail ballot initiatives in 2009 and 2011, the streetcar project is now on track to begin regular service in September. The 3.6-mile loop will connect key communities from the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood to the Central Business District.
In addition to revitalizing dozens of underused buildings, the streetcar will be a boon for meeting attendees who want to explore Cincinnati’s urban core. From 18 stops, groups can visit top attractions such as National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Great American Ball Park, Contemporary Arts Center, U.S. Bank Arena, Paul Brown Stadium, Yeatman’s Cove, Music Hall, Findlay Market and the Brewery District. Best of all, the convention center and several downtown hotels will be easily accessible via streetcar, costing only $1 to ride.
During the site selection process for the Republican and Democratic conventions, few cities were considered as competitive as Columbus. Not only was it in the running to host the Republican National Convention, but it was also a top-three finalist for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which takes place in Philadelphia July 25–28, just one week after the RNC. Columbus rose as a prime candidate due to its expanding meetings infrastructure and ability to support an array of convention activities.
Columbus has a proven track record for successfully hosting large and diverse events such as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments, 2015 NHL All-Star Game and the annual Arnold Sports Festival, which is one of the largest multisport festivals in the world, according to Brian Ross, president and CEO of Experience Columbus. “Columbus’ world-class, modern venues are more than large enough to host an event the size of a political convention,” Ross says.
Nationwide Arena, Columbus (Photo courtesy of Nationwide Realty Investors)
One of the biggest meeting venues in the city is about to get even bigger. Greater Columbus Convention Center (GCCC), which boasts more than 1.7 million sq. ft. of space, is in the midst of a massive $125 million renovation and expansion project. Contiguous exhibit space will grow to 373,000 sq. ft. with the addition of 37,000 sq. ft. Another 10,000 sq. ft. of split-level meeting space will add 10 meeting rooms, for a total of 74. The convention center is aiming for LEED certification upon completion in July 2017.
GCCC is located one block from Nationwide Arena, which would have held one of the national conventions Columbus was vying for. It offers more than 685,000 sq. ft. in the main arena and 18,500–20,000 seats for concerts and games. Home of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets, the arena also holds the annual Arnold Classic, a sports and fitness competition hosted by former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Each year the event draws more athletes than the Olympics. It is the largest health-and-fitness expo in the nation, with 900 booths and more than 200,000 attendees.
Given that the meetings and tourism industries are so important to Columbus, accounting for $8.7 billion annually, the city has invested heavily in visitor-related transportation. Port Columbus International Airport (CMH) completed a three-year $80 million modernization of its terminals in March, heralding more efficient airlift, facility upgrades and free Wi-Fi that’s seven times faster than before. Once attendees land, they can easily get around via AirConnect circulator, a newly launched bus service that travels between the airport and several downtown attractions, meeting facilities and hotels.
Vote of Confidence
Hosting a high-profile event is no easy feat. Cities must prepare years in advance, bolster meetings-related infrastructure and make a memorable impression on a diverse visitor base. Like a strong political candidate, planners can count on Ohio’s three biggest cities to deliver on their promises and get the job done.
From now until next year, Cincinnati will continue to experience a surge of hotel development around its two largest meeting venues—Sharonville Convention Center in the north and Duke Energy Convention Center along the Riverfront. Meeting groups can look forward to upcoming properties, ranging from adaptive reuse projects to contemporary lifestyle brands.
A Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites hotel (pictured) will be completed this fall. The six-story building will be the first new downtown hotel in more than 30 years. The $11 million construction will offer 117 guest rooms and a full-service restaurant.
A former office building for Procter & Gamble, the 1916 Duttenhofer Building is slated to become a 160-room boutique hotel by early 2017. The structure once belonged to Val Duttenhofer Sons, one of the largest shoe manufacturers in the country during the 20th century.
When finished, the 120-room Hyatt Place hotel will add more than 2,000 sq. ft. of meeting space to northern Cincinnati. When it opens in spring 2017, the six-story building will be connected to Sharonville Convention Center.
AC Hotel by Marriott at The Banks joins the mixed-use project along the Ohio River. The $35 million upscale lifestyle hotel will have 170 guest rooms, a rooftop bar and small meeting rooms when it opens in March 2017. The east side of the hotel will boast a four-story video wall facing Great American Ball Park.
The former Anna Louise Inn will be rehabilitated by Marriott, joining the brand’s independent Autograph Collection Hotel group by July 2017. It will offer 106 guest rooms, two ballrooms, a rooftop terrace, meeting space and dining options.
Major Meeting Venues
Great Wolf Lodge–Cincinnati/Mason
20 minutes from Cincinnati; 401 renovated guest rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of function space; family-friendly indoor water park; day spa.
Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza
AAA Four Diamond-rated; National Historic Landmark near Duke Energy Convention Center; 561 guest rooms; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati
Downtown property; 33,000 sq. ft. of event space, including 19,000-square-foot Pavilion Ballroom; complimentary shuttle to 10 partner hotels.
Hyatt Regency Cincinnati
491 renovated guest rooms; 39,923 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 14,219-square-foot ballroom; 18 meeting rooms; farm-to-table cuisine.
Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati
Green lodging destination; located on University of Cincinnati campus; 206 renovated guest rooms; more than 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 26 meeting rooms.
Millennium Hotel Cincinnati
Connected to Duke Energy Convention Center; 872 guest rooms; 27,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; rooftop pool and sundeck.
Renaissance Cincinnati Downtown Hotel
Historic property is LEED Silver certified; renovated in 2014; 323 guest rooms and suites; 14,380 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
The Cincinnatian Hotel
Forbes Four Star, AAA Four Diamond luxury property; 146 guest rooms; six meeting rooms offer a total of 3,355 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Westin Cincinnati
Restored downtown property; 456 guest rooms; 29,000 sq. ft. of event space; 17 meeting spaces, including an 8,880-square-foot ballroom.
Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Center
Stunning views of Lake Erie; near Cleveland Convention Center; 400 guest rooms; 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 16 meeting rooms; indoor pool.
Hilton Cleveland Downtown
$272 million, 600-room hotel slated to open near Cleveland Convention Center in July 2016; 46,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; rooftop bar.
Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade
Located downtown in a Victorian-era shopping mall; 293 guest rooms; 18,900 sq. ft. of meeting space; spa; 24-hour gym.
InterContinental Hotel Cleveland
295 guest rooms; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 8,800-square-foot ballroom; 500-seat amphitheater; free Wi-Fi; two restaurants.
Expo center offers 2.2 million sq. ft. of space; key Midwest venue for trade shows and exhibitions; indoor Ferris wheel.
Radisson Hotel Cleveland Gateway
Downtown location; 143 guest rooms; 5,400 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; restaurant; fitness center; free Wi-Fi.
Renaissance Cleveland Hotel
Luxury property built in 1918 on Public Square; 491 guest rooms; 64,834 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland
206 luxury guest rooms and suites; 19,910 sq. ft. of meeting space; near Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, shopping, restaurants.
The Kimpton Schofield Hotel
Opened in March; 122-room boutique hotel in historic Schofield Building; 3,800 sq. ft. of meeting space; restaurant.
The Westin Cleveland Downtown
Recent $70 million renovation; 484 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space including 9,050-square-foot ballroom and 20 meeting rooms.
Wyndham Cleveland at Playhouse Square
Recently refreshed property located in the theater district; 205 guest rooms; 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 5,000-square-foot ballroom; indoor pool; fitness center.
Crowne Plaza Hotel Columbus–Downtown
Located in hip Arena district; covered walkway to Greater Columbus Convention Center; 375 guest rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Columbus Downtown
Adjacent to Greater Columbus Convention Center; 532 guest rooms; 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; walking distance to more than 300 restaurants and entertainment venues.
Hyatt Regency Columbus
Connected to Greater Columbus Convention Center; 631 guest rooms; 67,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; indoor pool; gym.
Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel
408 guest rooms; 22,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; 16 event rooms; fitness center; Latitude 41 restaurant; rooftop terrace.
Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square
Walking distance to Arena district; 3 miles from Ohio State University; 403 guest rooms; 16,500 sq. ft. of meeting space.