Mayor Sly James wants the 2016 Republican National Convention, but is it worth it?

Last month, Mayors Sly James and Mark Holland traveled to Boston to pitch Kansas City as a potential site for the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Why sell typically blue-leaning Kansas City to a decidedly red-meat event?

“The answer is simple,” James wrote in an August 20 blog post on his website. “Kansas City deserves to be in that kind of spotlight.”

Platitudes aside, Kansas City boosters insist that drawing the convention would be an economic adrenaline rush for a city in search of the next big, attention-grabbing event. They predict 50,000 Republicans would march to the City of Fountains and bring with them $250 million in economic impact. City leaders in Tampa, Florida, made similar claims when that city hosted the 2012 Republican National Convention, which sent Mitt Romney on to electoral defeat to President Barack Obama.

The Tampa Bay Host Committee commissioned (read: paid for) a study that claimed the RNC had $214 million in economic impact. That figure goes up to $404 million when factoring in the always nebulous “multiplier effect” that economic development advocates use to measure the supposed spending by visitors.

But University of South Florida economist Philip Porter argues that Tampa saw no positive economic impact from the RNC. In a September 2 Tampa Bay Times article, Porter said it went the other way.

Porter compared sales-tax revenues in Hillsborough County, Florida, in August 2011 with August 2012, when the RNC was held. He found that sales taxes grew 6.75 percent with the RNC. That growth was less than the 6.92 percent sales-tax increase the rest of the state experienced. As a control, Porter compared the August 2010 sales-tax rate with August 2011 and found that it grew 5.88 percent in Hillsborough County, which was more than the 5.44 percent for the rest of the Sunshine State.

“Comparing August to August over time, it is apparent that the RNC did not stimulate economic activity in Hillsborough County,” Porter told the Times.

Porter has been the proverbial turd in the swimming pool for promoters trying to justify the costs associated with hosting conventions and sporting events. He has previously questioned the notion that the Super Bowl is an economic winner for host cities.

While local advocates for the 2016 RNC predict 50,000 visitors to Kansas City (the same figure cited for the Tampa convention), it’s a problematic number given the city’s 32,000 hotel rooms. James acknowledged that GOP figureheads in Boston needled him during his pitch about hotel rooms and transportation. On his blog, he wrote that the two-mile Main Street streetcar should be operating by 2016 to “allow us to easily move people from areas around town to downtown.”

But James didn’t address the hotel issue.

Kansas City isn’t alone in coveting the RNC. Las Vegas, with its 150,000 hotel rooms and 3 million square feet of convention space, is looking to make a bid. Salt Lake City is also exploring an offer.

Kansas City hosted the Republican National Convention in 1976 at Kemper Arena, and it didn’t bode well for the GOP. That night, Republican delegates selected Gerald Ford, the man who double-crossed an entire nation by pardoning Richard Nixon for his Watergate crimes, over upstart California Gov. Ronald Reagan.
Kansas City’s blessing sent Ford on to a narrow defeat in the election to eventual one-term President Jimmy Carter, who won the Show-Me State.

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