CHICAGO — Praising the city’s good faith, Chicago politicians and business leaders said last week that the city is ready to host the Democratic National Convention in 2024 and that the big national event will provide a much-needed spark for industries Chicago hotels ravaged by the pandemic.
Boosterism and optimism aside, the effort would require a major organizational feat to succeed, and though officials claim an estimated $150 million economic boost, economists have long been skeptical of those numbers. They point to security costs, the displacement of regular tourism and business and note that these estimates often include expenses that would still occur.
Yet, from the city’s mayor and business leaders to food, lodging and hospitality executives, leaders spoke enthusiastically about the city’s neighborhoods, downtown amenities and the experience of organizing major events, such as the 2012 NATO summit and the 1996 Democratic convention.
“We need to bring these conventions back to Chicago after the pandemic,” said Jack Lavin, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, estimating that could bring 35,000 delegates and visitors to the area. “It will be a great boost for Chicago.”
Details about possible locations, funding, and other factors remained scarce. City officials are waiting for the Democratic National Committee to issue a request for proposals, which would allow municipalities to officially begin work on land. Lavin said he expects the DNC to release the request soon.
Democrats have given cities until October to express whether they will submit a bid to host their convention, with Las Vegas and Nashville also under consideration. A source with knowledge of the process said hotel capacity should be an important factor in the DNC’s decision-making.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is working on the effort with Gov. JB Pritzker and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, among other Democrats, said the city would be “all out” to get the convention if the opportunity arises.
“We have a lot of hotel space, we have a great, world-class restaurant community,” Lightfoot said Thursday. “We have tons of entertainment, arts and culture, truly without exception in the world.”
Chicago has a number of options to choose from for a convention venue, including the United Center, where the 1996 Democratic convention was held, as well as Wintrust Arena and Navy Pier, she said.
“We have everything here in Chicago,” she said.
Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, which is involved in the planning effort, said the Democratic convention will not only fill Chicago-area hotels for a week, but give also a long-term boost to the city. image as a tourist destination.
“That would be a huge benefit for hotels across the city, with tens of thousands of people converging on the central business district over the course of a weekend,” Jacobson said. “But more importantly, an event like the Democratic National Convention will help change the perception of Chicago for those who haven’t been there for several years.”
Chicago’s hospitality industry has struggled during the pandemic, with occupancy in the central business district dropping from 74% in 2019 to 26% in 2020, according to data from research firm STR. While hotel occupancy recovered to 42.6% last year, it fell sharply again in January to 23.7% amid the ramp-up of the omicron variant.
The central business district has 135 hotels offering 43,881 rooms, according to Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism arm.
Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, echoed the excitement over a pitch to bring the convention to Chicago. He called it a boon for restaurants still struggling to emerge from the pandemic.
“I think it would definitely help the hospitality industry here in the city of Chicago by putting guests in beds and diners in seats,” he said.
Toia said restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues saw a week-long spike in activity during the 1996 convention, but the event was also a catalyst for long-term economic development in the city. west loop.
“We get to showcase our great city, our museums, our sports teams, our culinary scene,” Toia said. “I think we’re a city ready to host a convention again.”
Officials will have to contend with national perceptions of crime, although Lightfoot said “every major American city” is facing a similar rise in crime.
“We’ll tell them about the progress we’ve made, the programs and initiatives we’ve put in place to fight gangs and guns, and the investments we’ve made to turn communities around, not just to short term. -term but really long term,” Lightfoot said.
She added, “We’re a really fun town in the summer.”
Despite community leaders’ optimism about great economic benefits, research on the impact of past Republican and Democratic conventions predicts more modest potential for return.
A peer-reviewed study of Democratic and Republican National Conventions published in 2017 found that “host city claims of economic impacts of $150 million or more may be implausible.”
“We are extremely skeptical about this,” said Victor Matheson, professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross and co-author of the study. “The data doesn’t suggest you would get anything like that.”
The study found that while conventions typically create 29,000 room nights and an increase in hotel revenue of about $20 million on average, they also disrupt other regular tourism and business activities, as well as a increased security costs.
“You’re bringing in a bunch of people, but you’re driving away a lot of regular visitors who would normally be in Chicago,” Matheson said. “No one in their right mind wants to be this close to this event.”
Political nominating conventions bring revenue to transportation, restaurants, catering and other areas, in addition to hotels, but also attract protests, create traffic jams and require massive security.
“If I’m the mayor of Chicago, if I’m Lori Lightfoot, of course I want the Democratic National Convention. I manage to rub my elbows…. with Kamala Harris and Joe Biden and AOC,” he said. “I don’t want this event in town if I’m out of the leisure and hospitality sectors.
“It’s a miserable experience for most people in the city.”
(Sarah Freishtat of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.)
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