Tarrant County not included in Dallas GOP national convention bid

Posted Friday, Feb. 28, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Dallas’ effort to draw the national Republican convention back to Texas in two years likely would benefit all of North Texas.

But local officials Thursday said they weren’t involved in drawing up the bid to land the highly sought-after political event, and there’s no regional effort to partner up, as there was during past events such as the 2011 Super Bowl.

“Dallas is big,” said Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Their inventory will handle this convention very, very comfortably, so they don’t need to undertake a regional approach on this.”

Even so, Fort Worth, Arlington and other Tarrant County cities are expected to see an economic boost if the city to the east is chosen as the site for the national GOP convention in 2016.

“Anytime the North Texas region has a major event with a large influx of visitors, such as the Super Bowl or a large convention such as this, it’s great for our economy,” said Experience Arlington President Ronnie Price, adding that the city has a variety of entertainment options that might draw convention visitors and their wallets away from Dallas, such as art tours at AT&T Stadium, a ballgame at Globe Life Park at Arlington or thrill rides at Six Flags Over Texas.

“We love when these major events take place because we have an opportunity to showcase all that Arlington has to offer.”

Surrounding cities might also pick up hotel and convention business that might have otherwise gone to Dallas.

The national convention is expected to draw about 50,000 delegates, some of whom will stay in the host city for weeks leading up to the event, said Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. Delegates are expected to book between 16,000 and 20,000 of Dallas’ 35,000 total hotel rooms, Jones said, forcing business and leisure travelers who would normally stay in Dallas hotels to find accommodations in surrounding cities, such as Fort Worth, Arlington, Grapevine and Irving.

As part of its bid, Dallas also provided a list of 75 venues across the region that could host private parties and events, Jones said.

“There are so many great venues and attractions throughout North Texas,” Jones said. “We see this being a benefit to the entire region.”

While little or no spillover of business is expected in Tarrant County, Fort Worth and other cities might pick up some convention business during the time of the convention that otherwise would have gone to Dallas — if the city to the east is chosen as the site for the national GOP convention n 2016.

“We would be thrilled for Dallas to get the conference and hope that other opportunities ... would then look more seriously at Fort Worth,” Jameson said.

Republican officials at the statewide level say this convention would be a boon for the entire state.

“Of course we are excited about the possibility of the Republican National Convention coming to Texas,” said Beth Cubriel,✔ executive director of the Republican Party of Texas. “We look forward to having the national spotlight on Texas to showcase that the reddest state in the nation is also the most economically successful. And of course the economic stimulus into the DFW region is an added bonus.”

Local destination

Dallas has served as host to a national convention before. This was the site of the 1984 Republican National Convention, where President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush were nominated for re-election.

Even though Fort Worth has upgraded the convention center, and lured a convention center hotel to downtown in recent decades, the city simply isn’t big enough to host such a massive event, Jameson said.

This convention likely would require 16,000 hotel rooms on its peak night and a total of 96,000 hotel rooms during the entire convention, estimates show.

And while regional approaches worked for an event such as the Super Bowl — where visitors and events were spread up and down the I-30 corridor from Fort Worth to Dallas — that isn’t the right approach for a political convention, he said.

Organizers try to keep attendees and events at such a convention very centralized and as close as possible.

“It’s too big for the amount of room and space we have,” Jameson said.

“We are able to work with the state conventions when they occur every couple of years,” he said. “The national one is still beyond our reach.”

This summer, North Texas will host both state conventions — the Republican gathering June 5-7 at the Fort Worth Convention Center and the Democratic gathering June 26-28 at the Dallas Convention Center.

The ideal convention size for Fort Worth is 2,500 peak room nights, Jameson said.

A study is being conducted of the convention center and the opportunities another expansion might open up for the city. The study should be completed, and any recommendations presented to the mayor and City Council, by late spring, officials said.

Hotel rooms

A shortage of hotel rooms is also holding Arlington back from landing such major events, officials said. AT&T Stadium is an ideal venue for a national convention but the city doesn’t have the first-class hotels or public transportation to compete with Dallas.

“Dallas has the infrastructure and shuttling and the number of hotel rooms in close proximity to the convention. We don’t have that,” said Mark Wisness, director of the Arlington Convetion Center. “We’ve got the one piece but there are many others.”

Since 2008, Arlington has sought a partnership with a private developer to expand the convention center on Ballpark Way and to build an adjacent first-class hotel. Those improvements are needed, city officials said, to help Arlington attract larger meetings and conventions and to give tourists visiting Arlington’s sporting venues or theme parks an option of staying in town overnight instead of leaving for Dallas or Fort Worth hotels.

“One reason we couldn’t be the primary host [for the convention] is the lack of hotel rooms. We have some but not enough that needs to be covered,” Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said. “Until we can get assets like a big hotel, then I don’t think we would stand a chance.”

City leaders won’t disclose details about negotiations but District 7 Councilman Jimmy Bennett said he believes that an announcement “is imminent.”

Helping hands

Even though Fort Worth, Arlington and Tarrant County aren’t included in the proposal to bring the national convention to Texas, local officials say they are ready to do whatever is needed to help.

“If Dallas were to get the convention, Tarrant County would assist them in any way needed,” Tarrant County Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Hall said. “It is too early to tell what the RNC committee that chooses will decide.”

Cluck said Arlington is also ready to provide support.

“I was told, if Dallas is successful, it’s going to take the whole region to make it work,” Cluck said. “I think it is going to be harmonious. We will work together like we did for the Super Bowl to make it successful.”

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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