'We should get a do-over': Mayor hopes future conventions will consider Milwaukee following 2020 disappointments

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he wants "another swing at the bat" at hosting an event with the same magnitude as the Democratic National Convention.

He provided an update on the convention on Friday, Aug. 21, saying that there were no major disruptions from the event, but the city also didn't get the benefits from the DNC that city leaders and business owners were expecting.

"As much as I think we all would have loved to have seen 50,000 people and $200 million in spending in the city of Milwaukee over the last week, I'm still proud and will always be proud that we were chosen to host this convention," Barrett said.

After four days of a mostly virtual 2020 DNC based in Milwaukee, Barrett and VISIT Milwaukee said the estimated economic impact on the city is around $3 million. The number is a far cry from the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars when the city first won the bid. 

Claire Koenig, senior media relations manager for VISIT Milwaukee, said the economic benefit is mostly from the 4,000 hotel room nights booked and then also from some spending on food and some travel expenses such as airfare, taxi services and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

In 2019, when Milwaukee was chosen as the host city, there were concerns that the city would not be able to handle an event of the DNC's size. But Barrett said Friday that despite the convention being dramatically scaled back, this week proved those concerns were wrong.

"When the groups came here initially -- the question in the back of their mind was, 'Can Milwaukee hit major league pitching?' and I think that we proved beyond a doubt that we not only can hit major league pitching, but we can hit curveballs because we had to hit curveball after curveball after curveball," Barrett said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden accepted the Democratic Party's presidential nomination on Thursday, the last night of the DNC.

Barrett said Friday it was a bit disheartening to see the celebrations following the speech happen in Delaware and not Milwaukee, but he understands the reasoning. He said he would have been "much more offended" in Biden were currently traveling around the country, but he's not.

"(His speech) was obviously a very meaningful moment: one that we wish we could have had here in Milwaukee in person. I think we all would agree on that," Barrett said.

CBS 58 asked the mayor is keeping the mostly-virtual convention anchored in Milwaukee will hurt the city's chances of hosting the DNC again in the future.

"No, I think the fact that it was held here helps us in 2024," Barrett responded. "It was nice to see the Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti ,for example, just two days ago said that he thought that the 2024 convention should be in Milwaukee, and I've heard others say that they think that we should get a do-over for what happened this year."

Local businesses told CBS 58 they've taken a hit, not only from the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of the scaled back DNC.

"The loss of the DNC really and all of that revenue, it’s just one more thing that everyone has had to deal with in this whole pandemic crisis," said Kristine Hillmer from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association in early August. "A $200 million economic stimulus to the area was just going to be tremendous." 

Koenig said this week was actually even slower for local restaurants, likely because of a perception that the security perimeter was larger than it really is. Her advice to the community? Buy local.

"Just give up cooking for the weekend, and go support a local restaurant because they need it now more than ever," she said.

Due to the mostly virtual convention, city leaders have expressed interest in hosting the 2024 DNC.


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