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The Summer That Wasn’t: COVID-19, Virtual DNC Dim Milwaukee’s Moment In The Sun

With Convention, Sporting Events, 2020 Was Supposed To Be The City's Time To Shine. Now It's Left Disappointed.

a sign on a lamp post advertises the DNC in Milwaukee
A sign for the Democratic National Convention hangs outside the Wisconsin Center on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

2020 hasn’t turned out like anyone expected, and communities across the country are struggling. But for the city of Milwaukee, the list of disappointments seems especially long. This was supposed to be the week when tens of thousands of people descended on Milwaukee for the Democratic National Convention. But the city’s hopes of a monumental summer were dashed by the coronavirus.

And it’s not just the DNC — major sporting events like NBA playoff games and the Ryder cup golf tournament have been moved or delayed. Staples like Summerfest were canceled. And at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, people have been reduced to waiting hours in line for takeout fried food and cream puffs.

Attendees stay in their cars as they are directed to food vendors on the Milwaukee Mile Speedway on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, at the Wisconsin State Fair Park. Angela Major/WPR

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Bob and Kari Gundrum, of Butler, waited for cream puffs last week, lamenting what the fair and the summer could have been.

“We were looking around here — with the weather, it would have been amazing attendance down here,” Bob Gundrum said. “We love coming every year. It’s one of the highlights of our year. It’s just awful this place is empty right now.”

Rick Blaine usually works at the fair but this year he has been helping with the carry-out orders. He said the loss of the DNC has been a particularly hard blow for the city.

“We were rewarded it, but I think we got ripped off,” Blaine said. “I thought it would have been really good for the city. It is what it is.”

Milwaukee has much to offer. A growing downtown skyline, premier universities, safe and affordable neighborhoods and, of course, Lake Michigan. Still, for decades, the city has had a bit of an inferiority complex.

But that was beginning to change. The Milwaukee Bucks were winning. And in early 2019, the city beat Houston and Miami to host the DNC.

The convention would have drawn an estimated 50,000 people to Milwaukee, including 15,000 members of the media from around the world. It was also expected to have an economic impact of $200 million.