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Fancy hotels, revamped airport welcome RNC visitors to Cleveland

Monday marked the beginning of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, where Donald Trump will officially accept the party’s nomination for president. More than 50,000 people are expected to visit the city during the four-day convention, and millions of dollars have been spent to get Cleveland ready for its close-up.

Ohio’s second-largest city was selected to host the convention in July 2014, and the last two years have been packed with flashy projects designed to welcome tourists. Accommodations have been a major focus, but despite the fact that there are more than 100 hotels located within 35 miles of downtown Cleveland, the city has opened three new high-profile hotels in just the last four months.

New hotels

In March, the 122-room Kimpton Schofield Hotel opened its doors after undergoing a $50 million restoration project. Meanwhile, $52 million was spent to convert the historic Cleveland Board of Education building into the 189-room Drury Plaza Hotel, which opened in April.

But the flashiest property would have to be the Hilton Cleveland Downtown, a $272 million skyscraper that officially opened on June 1, 2016. The 600-room hotel was funded by Cuyahoga County taxpayers, and towers over the competition with 32 floors and 46,000 square feet of meeting space. It is the perfect place for convention guests, but Emily Lauer, spokeswoman for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, assures Yahoo Finance that plans were already in place for the hotel and some of the other high-profile projects before Cleveland won the bid.

“The convention was the catalyst for things to get done,” Lauer says. “Multimillion-dollar investments aren’t made for just four days of business.” Of course, hosting a convention – much like hosting any major sporting event like the Super Bowl or Olympics – is seen as a potential economic boon. Recent history suggests political conventions bring big spending to host cities – St. Paul, Tampa Bay, Fla., and Denver, for example – as well as hassles.

City projects

There are also two massive city projects that were completed just time for the GOP-fest.

The first is the re-opening of Cleveland’s Public Square on June 30. The 10-acre area underwent a 15-month renovation to add a green space, café and a splash pad that will be converted into an ice-skating rink during the winter months. The $50 million project was the brainchild of landscape designer James Corner from Field Operations, the same firm that created the High Line park in New York City.

On June 27, the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (the city’s main airport) also finished its renovations, which took about a year and cost nearly $36 million. The project, which included a $25 million makeover of the terminal facade, was funded through unspent general airport revenue bonds. “We wanted people to have a positive impression of Cleveland from the moment they stepped off of the plane,” says Lauer.

When it comes to the actual convention, the Republican National Committee raised $64 million for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee to pay for the event. This money pays for things like production, facilities, operations and administration.

The Host Committee is also in charge of transportation, which can get bogged down when you’re attempting to get 15,000 journalists and 2,472 delegates to and from their hotels. To get the job done, the host committee has a fleet of 350 motorcoaches — dubbed the GOP Express  — to transport attendees to the Quicken Loans Arena where the convention is held.


Indiana State Police officers stand guard in Cleveland Public Square near the site of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.

One area where money is no object is security. Given the constant unrest at Donald Trump rallies, and recent attacks on law enforcement in Dallas and Baton Rouge, public safety has been a major focus in RNC preparation.

In addition to the local police and fire departments, more than two dozen other public safety agencies, like the US Secret Service and FBI, will be on hand to help with crowd control and security measures. The RNC falls in the category of a National Special Security event, a designation that made the city eligible for a $50 million grant from the federal government. The money will help pay for the 2,500 out-of-town police officers, as well as equipment, barriers, fencing and security screening areas to keep visitors safe.

According to Cleveland’s tourism department, the city has spent more than $3.5 billion in visitor-related infrastructure development since 2011. The convention is drawing a lot of attention to the Rock & Roll capital, but Lauer hopes people fall in love with Cleveland and make their way back.

“We’re in this for the long term, not just the economic benefit of four days,” she says. “We’ve been out of the meeting and convention game for 15 years, and we want to bring people to the city who wouldn’t have come otherwise.”