Democratic party leaders tour Milwaukee as finalist for 2020 convention

MILWAUKEE — Democratic National Committee leaders are touring Fiserv Forum and other downtown facilities during a two-day visit to assess Milwaukee's viability to host the party's 2020 convention.

Party leaders said Milwaukee was a diverse city that knows how to host big events, two things the DNC is looking for in a host site. Milwaukee is the smallest metro area of the three finalists; Miami and Houston are also in the mix.

"It’s a competitive process, and it’s wide open," Jess O'Connell, the DNC's selection chair, told reporters Monday morning. "We’re looking at three impressive finalist cities that bring their own unique character to the table."

City officials are promising a huge economic boost if the city wins the convention. But landing the event will require tens of millions of dollars in local fundraising.

The Milwaukee Bucks put DNC graphics in all of the monitors at Fiserv Forum so the search committee didn't have to imagine what the arena would look like for the July 13-16, 2020 convention.

The new arena, which opened Sunday, is a key part of the city's pitch. Mayor Tom Barrett is also selling the proximity of the Wisconsin Center, UWM Panther Arena, and Miller High Life Theatre as meeting spaces within walking distance of Fiserv Forum.

The city has more than enough hotel rooms nearby, Barrett said.

"I've been to six different conventions and I can tell you that it's difficult in some cities because things are so spread out," Barrett said.

O'Connell said the party would not choose its host city until after the November 2018 midterms. The decision will happen by early next year, she said.

Tom Barrett

She did not specifically say how much money Milwaukee would have to raise to host the event, in addition to the national party's spending.

"Putting on a world-class event is expensive, and it will be in the tens of millions of dollars that need to be raised by the host committee," O'Connell said.

Barrett also played up Wisconsin's status as a swing state that President Donald Trump won in 2016. He said Democrats lost the election that year in the Midwest.

"We think it’s time – with all due respect – for the Democrats to come back to the Midwest," he said. Republicans held their nominating convention in two Midwestern cities, Minneapolis and Cleveland, in 2008 and 2016, respectively.

Philadelphia saw an estimated $230 million boost from the 2016 convention, well short of the initial estimates.

The search committee was in Houston recently, and will go to Miami next month.

Jaime Harrison, the DNC's associate chair, predicted that the 2020 convention would be "the most important in a generation."

"We want to make sure that the cities that we work with can really  help us with the back end component so that we can spend our time and attention to what the viewers are seeing -- the speeches and all of those components," Harrison said.