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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jun. 10, 202011:50 AM EST

Florida GOP tweets that Jacksonville is front-runner for the Republican National Convention

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Major hotels show they are booked for the dates of the Aug. 24-27 convention.

By Max Marbut, Mike Mendenhall & Katie Garwood • Staff writers

The Republican Party of Florida tweeted June 10 that Jacksonville is a front-runner for the Aug. 24-27 Republican National Convention.

“While no final decision has been made by the RNC we understand Jacksonville is a front runner. This certainly has been generating a lot of attention and excitement,” tweeted @FloridaGOP.

“We continue to believe that Florida would be the best place for the Convention,” said the statement by state Sen. Joe Gruters, the party chairman. He represents District 23 in southwest Florida.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said June 10 that Jacksonville is "absolutely in the frontrunning position" to host the celebration for the Republican convention.

"We are going to keep our convention of, the business of the convention in Charlotte. That is for sure. It's going to be smaller and scaled down. And then we are looking for a different city for a celebration. There's a couple more things we need to do before we can announce that, but Jacksonville is absolutely in the frontrunning position," McDaniel said on The Hugh Hewitt Show.

Hotels are preparing.

Richard Goldman, CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau, confirmed June 10 that the organization worked with Duval County officials to prepare for the possibility that the Republican National Convention might be coming to Jacksonville.

“We were asked to communicate with the folks in Jacksonville putting the bid together,” Goldman said.

There are more than 9,000 hotel rooms in St. Johns County, mostly small independent properties. When large events happen in Jacksonville, the overflow business often results in booking rooms in surrounding counties, he said. St. Johns County is south of Duval County.

“We are looking forward to the outcome. Hopefully, it will be positive,” Goldman said.

The Washington Post cited three unnamed Republican officials in a report June 10 that said the national party has “tentatively settled” on Jacksonville as the RNC’s “new destination for the premier festivities.” 

The Post reported that RNC aides are determining whether Jacksonville and the surrounding area have the hotel capacity to accommodate the presidential nominating convention. 

In a May 26 tweet, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry offered VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena Downtown as an alternative site for the convention after President Donald Trump publicly expressed disapproval with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. 

Cooper said the Republican National Committee would need to scale back the presidential nominating convention to allow for social distancing because of COVID-19.

Curry and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have been voicing their support to bring the convention to Florida. 

ASM Global, which manages the 15,000-person capacity VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, did not respond immediately to a phone call or email June 10 about the availability of the arena for the dates of the convention.

Amelia Island Tourist Development Council President and CEO Gil Langley said June 10 he was contacted last week by Visit Jacksonville, the tourism and convention bureau for Jacksonville and the Beaches, asking for the area’s August hotel occupancy rates. Amelia Island is in Nassau County bordering Jacksonville to the north.

Langley said Visit Jacksonville’s phone call was not routine.

“I wasn’t expecting it. It occasionally happens when there’s a citywide (event) possibility, the metro’s outlying areas are polled for room availably.” 

Langley said the last time he received a call like that from Visit Jacksonville was during the city’s last bid to secure the NCAA Football National Championship Game.

A spokesperson for Visit Jacksonville said President and CEO Michael Corrigan was not available for interviews June 10.

Booking websites for Jacksonville’s larger capacity hotels show no reservations available during the days the convention is scheduled. 

The Omni Jacksonville Hotel, Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, Hyatt Place Jacksonville at the St. Johns Town Center, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Jacksonville Airport and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Jacksonville Riverfront and the Embassy Suites Baymeadows Jacksonville were all unavailable to book for those dates as of 10 a.m. June 10.

Nikki Kimbleton, the city’s director of public affairs, said in a text June 10 that the Curry administration would not be responding to the national news reports, and will release a statement if the RNC makes an announcement.

“At this time, we truly don’t have any info,” she said.

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