All Eyes on Cleveland as It Finalizes Preparations for RNC

It been two years—and lots of work—since Cleveland was awarded the Republican National Convention. Now, only days away from kickoff, the city shares some insight into the planning of such a large-scale event.

After being awarded next week’s Republican National Convention in July 2014, Cleveland hit the ground running.

The to-do list was long: secure hotel rooms, raise the $64 million needed to pay for the convention, plan marketing and city-beautification efforts, and coordinate security preparation.

But almost everything has been checked off, and now the city is only days away from welcoming 50,000 visitors, 15,000 credentialed media, and an estimated $200 million to $250 million in direct spending.

Lucky for me, I was able snag some time with Emily Lauer, senior director of PR and communications at Destination Cleveland (Cuyahoga County’s convention and visitors bureau) and spokeswoman for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee. She shared some insights into what it takes to plan a meeting that “brings the eyes of the world along with it.”

It Takes a Village

No matter a meeting’s size, it takes a lot of people to pull it off—and the RNC is no exception.

“The city and Destination Cleveland, as well as a number of other organizations, have had a very collaborative effort to make sure we can maximize this opportunity for Cleveland and the region, as well as create the best visitor experience and the best convention yet for the Republican Party,” Lauer said.

The Host Committee is made up of full-time staff members and a handful of consultants. It receives pro bono support from Destination Cleveland. “We have approximately 11 full-time-equivalent staff members who have been working on the convention over the last two years,” she said. “The decision was made to leverage the expertise of the staff in order to really streamline the planning process.”

The decision was made to leverage the expertise of the staff in order to really streamline the planning process.

People join the Host Committee as they provide fundraising support. Since the committee had to raise the event’s $64 million budget, companies, organizations, and individuals become members upon donating.

Community Involvement Is a Must

Lauer said the Host Committee wanted to engage people in Northeast Ohio in every possible way.

“When you think about having 50,000 visitors come to a community, they are always going to have questions about the area—about things to do, places to go, things to see,” she said.

Because of this, the committee asked local residents to become Cleveland ambassadors who will serve as hotel greeters, airport greeters, and way-finders downtown.

Local residents were also asked to be part of the “We the People” campaign. The group held a casting call in April where 150 Clevelanders went downtown to have their pictures taken.

“We then chose 50 local residents whose faces now adorn over 800 pole banners throughout the city of Cleveland and feature their name and their occupation,” Lauer said. “We wanted to show our residents.”

Security Gets Top Priority

While security measures have always been top of mind for this meeting given its sheer size and potential for protests, recent events throughout the country have heightened security needs.

Like all convention host cities, Cleveland received a $50 million federal grant to boost security. And, because the RNC is designated as a national special security event, the Secret Service is leading the security planning in partnership with the City of Cleveland Division of Police.

“We’re confident it’s a very comprehensive plan, and when you have the Secret Service and other national and local agencies at the helm, we know that they plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Lauer said. “I do believe, and it’s been said by the head of the Host Committee, as well as the head of the RNC Planning committee, that Northeast Ohio will be very safe next week.”

The Cleveland skyline. (handout photo/

Opportunity Is Knocking

Hosting the RNC also brings a long-term economic benefit to the city and surrounding region.

“When you talk about long term, what hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention really does for Cleveland is that it proves we’re able to produce one of the most complex meetings that is out there to be the host of,” Lauer said.

It will give the city the opportunity to showcase its facilities, including its state-of-the-art convention center, which opened in 2013 and will serve as the media center, and Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention will take place. The convention will also reinforce the visitor experience the city can offer.

“In the past five years, we’ve had $3.5 billion invested in visitor-related infrastructure, so now we have the opportunity to show off that investment to people who are coming to town who might not otherwise have to come to Cleveland in the summer of 2016,” she said.

As you know, Cleveland’s not the only city prepping for a political convention. Stay tuned next week for a look at how Philadelphia is getting ready to host the Democratic National Convention.

(Erik Drost/Flickr)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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