Politics & Government

May 17, 2014

Thousands of Republicans will soon head to Fort Worth

Republicans will soon arrive in Fort Worth, filling hotels and restaurants — and spending millions during their visit.

Thousands of Texas Republicans are expected to descend on Fort Worth next month for the country’s largest political convention, creating a multimillion-dollar impact for the region.

Up to 11,000 delegates and alternates — more than twice the number who attended the 2012 national convention in Tampa, Fla. — will fill local hotels, dine at local restaurants and buy souvenirs from local stores during the Republican Party of Texas’ state convention June 5-7.

With them, and their guests, comes an economic impact ranging from $3.4 million to $9 million, estimates show.

“This is the largest state convention in Texas,” said Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. “This is a major undertaking.”

This is the second time in recent years that the GOP has held a convention at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

But this gathering has an added draw: A 2016 presidential straw poll that organizers hope will attract high-profile speakers and presidential contenders. Potential candidates already expected to speak include Gov. Rick Perry and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

“We are honored to be able to host this event in Fort Worth,” said Kirk Slaughter, director of public facilities and events for Fort Worth. “It’s a big deal to us.”

In 2012, Republicans gathered here for their presidential-year convention, drawing about 9,000 delegates and alternates and 1,000 guests. Projections at the time pegged the event as having a $4.4 million economic impact, according to conservative estimates from the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau.

This year, that figure is nearly $3.4 million, said Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the bureau.

The estimate comes from looking at the projected number of attendees and the number of hotel nights needed during the convention. Delegates are expected to need about 4,000 hotel rooms, spread out among at least nine hotels.

“We are excited to have them back, and we are looking forward to providing them with a great convention in the heart of Fort Worth,” Jameson said.

Munisteri said the economic impact could be much higher.

He said the average delegate plans to spend at least $1,000 for food, lodging and travel. Some will stay two or three nights; others will stay five to seven nights. Some will travel alone; others will bring guests.

Munisteri concedes that up to 30 percent of the delegates may come from Dallas-Fort Worth and won’t need lodging. But they’ll still buy food and incur other costs.

Factoring in all of that, as well as the $1 million the party plans to spend to host the event, Munisteri said the economic impact could top $9 million.

The party has booked Dallas for its 2016 convention.

Democrats in Dallas

Just across the Trinity River in Dallas, Democrats expect around 6,800 delegates and alternates at their convention June 26-28. They believe the total crowd — guests, speakers, media and others — will reach around 10,000.

“We expect this convention to have a bigger anticipation than in the past, considering we have two dynamic women at the top of the ticket,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “They have excited Democrats across the state of Texas in a way we never imagined we could have.”

Tourism officials expect attendees to use thousands of hotel room nights and bring a potential economic impact of $10 million to Dallas, according to generous estimates.

“There are lots of Democrats in North Texas and in the state of Texas,” said Phillip Jones, chief executive of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are thrilled to show off the city of Dallas to those who haven’t been in recent years.”

Jones said he’s glad the Texas GOP will be in Dallas in 2016 and hopes to persuade national Republicans to have their gathering there as well.

“Our hope is that we can book the state and national Republican convention in the same year,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

These conventions benefit more than just Dallas, he said.

“A lot of the delegates coming to Dallas are probably going to find the time to visit Fort Worth during their visit, and the same will probably happen with those going to Fort Worth,” he said. “It’s a way to combine two unique experiences in their visit.

“Both party conventions benefit the entire region.”

Top GOP issues

During the Republican convention, politicians will speak to the crowd, working to invigorate voters and stressing the importance of turnout in the general election this year.

Delegates will choose a chairman (Munisteri has not drawn a challenger) and a vice chairman (Melinda Fredricks of Conroe is stepping down, and officials are waiting to see who runs).

They will also develop the platform, an outline of the party’s beliefs that candidates do not always follow. The party has drawn massive media attention in recent years for changing stances on immigration, which could be a key issue again this year.

In 2012, for instance, delegates called on state lawmakers to crack down on illegal immigration and approved legislative priorities that called for bringing Arizona-like immigration laws to Texas, including making it a Class A misdemeanor for an undocumented worker to be in the state.

They also called for adding penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, eliminating day labor work centers and removing funding for cities with “sanctuary laws.”

At the same time, they added to the platform support for illegal immigrants who have gone through the U.S. school system, graduated from high school and chosen to serve in the military.

Delegates will also approve rules guiding the party.

Improving facilities

Before 2012, the last political convention in Fort Worth was the Democratic state convention in 2006. Republicans gathered here in 1998.

This year, the Republican Party plans to use all of the convention center, including the domed arena, the ballroom, the exhibit hall, meeting rooms — as well as conference rooms in various downtown hotels.

Some say the city can host such events because of the $75 million renovation of the convention center that wrapped up in the early 2000s and the decision to build an Omni convention center hotel in 2009.

Around the same time, the Sheraton Fort Worth, with more than 400 rooms, was renovated and reopened, and the Hilton Fort Worth underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation.

Officials say they realize that more improvements are needed.

Munisteri cited some complaints in 2012 about outdated bathroom facilities and problems with elderly delegates navigating stairs in the arena area.

Slaughter said a study is looking at what needs to be done downtown in the next 10 to 15 years so the city can continue to attract large conventions.

The study will examine the convention center, including the arena, which was not part of the most recent renovation, as well as whether additional hotel rooms are needed downtown, he said.

A report could be presented to the City Council and the Convention & Visitors Bureau by late summer.

“This is the next step,” Slaughter said. “We knew all along if [the earlier renovations] were successful, demand would continue to grow.

“Business is really good in Fort Worth right now, and we want to keep that going.”

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