- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

NEW YORK — Hosting a national political convention is becoming less attractive as the costs increasingly outweigh the benefits, economic and political analysts say.

But tourism advocates say the four-day parties still bring economic and political benefits to their host cities, despite the growing hassles associated with them and their scripted, no-news nature.

“They no longer make sense as an event themselves or as economic development,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. “You don’t need any convention, let alone host one.”

Los Angeles received no economic benefit from the 2000 Democratic National Convention once the costs were added up, he said. And that was before the September 11 terrorist attacks prompted massive security measures and additional expenses.

The federal government chipped in $50 million each to New York and Boston, hosts of the Republican and Democrat national conventions, respectively, to offset security costs.

Host cities now also have to worry about protests and lingering lawsuits stemming from them.

New York officials say hosting the convention this week has been worthwhile economically as well as image-wise, and that the hassles haven’t been as great as expected.

“Some would say that the protests have not been as overwhelming and challenging as had been predicted by some,” said Paul Elliott, press secretary for the New York City Host Committee 2004, the nonpartisan, nonprofit group that ran the convention.

Police said nearly 1,800 people were arrested in a week of convention-related protests.

“New York is a city where big things happen,” Mr. Elliott said. “We built the largest, the most flawless political convention ever.”

And that will pay off when the city bids for the 2008 conventions, he said.

“People will say that you can come to New York. You can have the quintessential experience.”

Still, strict security and road and transit closures around Madison Square Garden prompted thousands of New Yorkers to leave town and hurt nearby businesses.

Before the convention, the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, an economic research organization, predicted the economic benefit would be $163 million, more than $100 million less than the official New York prediction.

“It was a mistake to have these in Boston and New York,” said David Tuerck, executive director of the institute. “They both took a big chance with protests and threats of terrorism.” Plus, the conventions will not bring either major city any more long-term exposure, he said.

The Democratic convention in July brought Boston’s economy $14.8 million, far less than the $154 million predicted by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, according to the Beacon Hill Institute. While the convention raked in $156.7 million, the city lost $141.9 million in lost tourism and commuter spending as well as from two canceled events.

Officials across the country are becoming concerned that hosting a convention is not economically worthwhile, said political analyst Ron Faucheux. “They’re not sure it’s worth the price you have to pay.”

Both in Boston and New York, the security measures and road closures prompted thousands of residents to leave town.

“They’re simply replacing people who would normally be here,” Mr. Faucheux said.

In 2000, the Republican National Convention generated $170 million in direct spending for Philadelphia, raised the city’s profile and gave it a needed refurbishment. But the city spent four years dealing with lingering court cases and lawsuits over protesters who were arrested during the convention.

Still, the benefits are worth the expense, said Danielle Cohn, spokeswoman with the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“You cannot put a dollar figure” on the international media exposure a host city receives. “You can’t buy that,” she said.

The event filled 100,000 hotel rooms during the summer, a slow season for the convention business, and showed trade groups that the city can handle meetings of all sizes.

The American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology committed to holding its 2006 convention in Philadelphia after watching the city successfully handle the Republican event, the Fairfax trade association said.

“The security costs are much higher now, but the investment you make in a convention really helps to generate a lot of economic development … a lot of good will … a lot of infrastructure,” Ms. Cohn said. “We’re still saying in our marketing materials that we’re the home of the 2000 Republican National Convention.”

Despite the lean economic benefits of the Boston convention, 55 percent of Massachusetts residents polled by Suffolk University Political Research Center said they would recommend hosting one.

Convention officials in Detroit, which hosted the 1980 Republican National Convention and vied for this summer’s meetings, also say the events are still worthwhile.

“We do believe that there is a benefit to political conventions,” said Renee Monforton, director of communications for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. A convention shows the “city and region can handle events of this magnitude.”

Politically, hosting a convention is an opportunity for local politicians to gain national exposure and raise their profiles for future candidacies, Mr. Faucheux said.

Hosting the convention will have been worthwhile politically for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Gov. George E. Pataki, both Republicans, if it is successful, but “it’s riskier for them now,” he said earlier this week.

“Sometimes a city gets a black eye,” like Chicago in 1968 when protests turned violent, said Stephen Hess, senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution in Washington and professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. “I don’t think Boston or New York has gotten a black eye.”

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