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RNC committee visits Milwaukee as decision looms for 2024 convention location

National nominating convention would bring $200M into the region

Milwaukee skyline
This image taken with a drone shows the Milwaukee skyline at sunset Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

This week the Republican National Convention’s Site Selection Committee visited Milwaukee, one of three cities in the running to host the 2024 convention.

About 26 Republican delegates arrived Wednesday night and were treated to dinner at Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro after seeing panoramic views of Milwaukee from the 28th floor of Northwestern Mutual’s downtown office tower.

On Thursday, the group started the day at Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, where they met with leaders from the Secret Service, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and the city’s police and fire departments to go over safety plans if the convention is hosted in Milwaukee.

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From there, they headed to American Family Field, State Fair Park and 3rd St. Market Hall in the former Grand Avenue Mall, where the group ate burgers and pizza, played cornhole and visited the new selfie museum, Omar Shaikh, Milwaukee restaurateur and owner of 3rd St. Market Hall, said.

“In my opinion, I don’t see how it could have gone better,” Shaikh, who spent about 24 hours with the group, said. “We made sure that everyone got some frozen custard, which they loved, too.”

The tour ended at Fiserv Forum and Shaikh’s Carnevor steakhouse.

“I think at this point it’s 50-50: It’s Wisconsin and Tennessee,” Shaikh said. “I know there is a very influential political family that really wants to make it happen (in Tennessee); we’re not going to sleep on our laurels, I think we really need to keep pushing, but I feel good about it.”

The RNC will be getting a tour of Nashville next week.

Last week, the group was in the third contending city, Salt Lake City, Utah. Milwaukee’s tourism leaders and politicians joined them in Salt Lake City to make the case for Milwaukee.

On Thursday, Politico reported Milwaukee was leading the competition to host the RNC. One of the biggest appeals, according to the report, is that Milwaukee is almost “turnkey,” because the city has a lot of the infrastructure and planning figured out from preparing to host the Democratic National Convention in 2020.

The DNC became a virtual convention because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wisconsin will also be a swing state in 2024, unlike Tennessee and Utah, which traditionally vote Republican. President Joe Biden won Wisconsin in 2020 by 20,682 votes.

Like the DNC, the Republican convention will have an estimated economic impact of just under $200 million and would bring an estimated 45,000 visitors to the Milwaukee area.

“Milwaukee is pursuing the RNC for the same reason it pursued the DNC: To bring hundreds of millions of dollars in near- and long-term economic benefit to our restaurants, bars, hotels, shops and venues,” Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, said in a statement.

Smith said between $10 million and $20 million has been pledged by private donors to host the convention. VISIT, which hosted the RNC guests, believes it will ultimately need to raise $65 million.

If Milwaukee is chosen, Reince Priebus, former chair of the RNC, will head the local organizing committee. Priebus, who is from Kenosha, served briefly as chief of staff under former President Donald Trump.

Shaikh said Milwaukee’s host committee was made up of bipartisan leaders who understand the economic impact the Republican convention will have on the region. He said during the visit, Republicans praised acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

“We all wanted the DNC to happen badly as well,” Shaikh said.

Milwaukee anticipates hearing more news in March after presenting in Washington D.C., Williams-Smith said.