Wisconsin Democrats say impact of Milwaukee DNC could extend to Dane County

April 17, 2018 GMT

Milwaukee’s bid to land the Democratic National Convention in 2020 could provide a regional economic boost that extends at least as far as Dane County, bid supporters say.

Local Democrats also say a Wisconsin-based convention could provide a national showcase for one of the country’s foremost Democratic strongholds:the Madison metro area.

Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are spearheading the convention bid, which is pitting Milwaukee against Atlanta, San Francisco and other potential host cities.

The winning city gets an influx of 50,000 visitors, a week in the national spotlight and an economic infusion likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Milwaukee’s bid is anchored by the new Bucks arena, which would host the convention. Now under construction, it’s set to open later this year.

Wisconsin’s status as a political swing state -- and particularly, its pivotal role in recent presidential elections -- is another selling point.

Lasry said in an interview that the benefits from a national convention would extend beyond southeastern Wisconsin.

While most of the lodging and hospitality benefits would flow to the Milwaukee area, some visitors would make day trips to Madison before, during or after the convention, he said. Lasry also said some Dane County businesses could help meet some of the visitors’ demand for services.

“There’s a $200 million economic impact for the state, and Dane County is definitely going to have a piece of that,” Lasry said.

In Philadelphia, which hosted the 2016 Democratic National Convention, its convention and visitors bureau estimated an economic impact from the convention of about $230 million. It estimated the four-day convention drew more than 54,000 visitors, including delegates, activists and media members.

Michael Basford, chairman of the Dane County Democrats, said he’s enthusiastically cheering the Milwaukee bid. Dane County’s mix of high voter turnout and heavy preference for Democratic candidates make it a “shining example” for Democrats elsewhere, Basford said -- one he’d be eager to show off to Democratic delegates from across the country.

If Milwaukee lands the convention, “we would certainly have an intense effort to invite Democrats to Madison,” Basford said.

But first, Milwaukee faces the tough task of winning the bidding. Two much larger cities, Atlanta and San Francisco, have announced plans to pursue the convention, and others could enter the running.

Democratic National Committee officials are expected to tour potential host cities as soon as this summer and announce a winner in early 2019.

Lasry said there’s no question the Milwaukee area has the hotel space, which he estimates at about 15,000 rooms, needed to house the influx of visitors. He said Wisconsin’s typically pleasant summer weather and affordability are additional selling points.

“It has to be a place that everyone can afford to go to,” Lasry said.

For now, Milwaukee is the only Midwestern city vying for the convention. Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning said bringing the focus to the Midwest would be a positive for all Democrats.

“It’s time that Democrats highlight the heartland,” Laning said.

Laning said local Democrats are hoping Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez’s family ties to the Badger State give Milwaukee a boost. Perez’s wife is a Wisconsin native, the couple was married in the Milwaukee area and Perez’s daughter attends UW-Madison.

Supporters of the Milwaukee DNC bid also have framed it as bipartisan, noting it’s supported by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, which contributes heavily to Republican causes.

Lasry, a former Obama White House aide, has contributed to Democratic candidates. His father, Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, has been a major Democratic donor.

The Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau said a Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee would generate significant economic and tourism opportunities for the Madison area -- though the bureau said it’s too early to quantify them.

“We stand ready to support the state and city of Milwaukee’s efforts, should they reach out to us,” said Deb Archer, the bureau’s president.