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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jun. 25, 202005:20 AM EST

Super insight: Mike Weinstein, who led effort to prepare Jacksonville for the Super Bowl, on the challenges of the RNC

Weinstein's group had five years to prepare. The RNC host committee has 59 days.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

When Mike Weinstein led the Jacksonville Host Committee for Super Bowl XXXIX from 2000 to 2005, he faced securing the event facilities, hotel capacity and transportation resources and drafting security protocols to support 100,000-plus people descending on Northeast Florida. 

Weinstein said in an interview June 22 that challenges will be similar for the Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee planning the Aug. 24-27 Republican National Convention.

The difference: His group of 10 to 15 staffers had five years to prepare. The RNC host committee, now with 33 members, has 59 days.

“There are a lot of similarities,” Weinstein said. “The challenge is they don’t have the planning time so they have to really hustle and they may have people that are coming for different reasons and have to deal with those different reasons,” he said.

“The NFL and the Super Bowl, it was really more of a party atmosphere and not anything else.” 

Weinstein, now interim executive director of the Kids Hope Alliance, is a former city of Jacksonville chief financial officer. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he doesn’t think bringing in cruise ships to supplement the region’s existing hotel capacity will be an option for the RNC host committee like organizers did for the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl was held Feb. 6, 2005, but with days of activities leading up to it.

It took nearly a year to negotiate contracts with cruise lines, which brought 3,600 rooms, food and entertainment space into the Downtown area for the game.

Weinstein said RNC organizers don’t have that time.

Mike Weinstein, interim executive director of the Kids Hope Alliance and a former city of Jacksonville chief financial officer, said the Jacksonville host committee for the RNC convention won’t have time to bring in cruise ships t

The Republican Party of Duval County expects 12,000 to 15,000 people inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. 

According to the convention’s official website, organizers anticipated 50,000 visitors when the full RNC was planned for Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Politico news site reported in July 2016 that organizers for the last GOP convention in Cleveland planned for nearly 50,000 people coming to the city.

Weinstein said the NFL’s guests took 18,000 rooms, more than the available hotel capacity in Jacksonville at the time.

The host committee’s June 11 announcement said city officials worked with Visit Jacksonville to secure more than 10,000 hotel rooms for the RNC.

They worked with the city’s facility manager, ASM Global, to secure the host venues, including the arena, where President Donald Trump is expected to give his nomination acceptance speech Aug. 27.

Weinstein anticipates guests for the RNC will spread beyond Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties as far south as Ormond Beach and Daytona.

Weinstein said Jacksonville had to show the NFL it could provide the transportation infrastructure to move players, fans and guests from accommodations in St. Johns and Nassau counties to the Downtown stadium.

The committee had commitments from limousine services, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and taxi companies from outside Northeast Florida at the time the Super Bowl application was submitted, Weinstein said.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who is co-chair of the RNC host committee, said during a June 22 news conference the event was in the early planning stage.

That committee plans to announce RNC working groups on transportation, local economic opportunity, hospitality and health and community wellness in the coming days.

Planning security

Like the RNC, Weinstein’s staff had to work with the U.S. Secret Service to establish a security zone and perimeter Downtown. 

Security protocols for the 2005 Super Bowl were drafted through the lens of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Weinstein said security measures for Super Bowls planned before 9/11 were not as tight, and his focus was on protecting the event space as a potential terrorist target.

“So you had to restrict access to a very large area and anyone gaining access already had to have a ticket and be screened for possessions long before they reached the stadium itself,” Weinstein said. 

“I think that’s going to be similar to what happens (with the RNC).”

The RNC host committee has not released information on the size of the security zone. Unlike the Super Bowl, the RNC committee also will likely plan for potential protesters and could establish free speech zones. 

Politico reported in 2016 that 10,867 people had registered to protest up to two weeks before the RNC in Cleveland. 

“You’ll have the same level of security, but it really seems to be for a different purpose,” Weinstein said.

Media attention

The amount of national and international media attention generated by a Super Bowl or political convention will add to the committee’s security and hospitality challenges, Weinstein said.

Andrew Johnson, Duval County GOP executive director, said June 16 as many as 17,000 members of the news media could come to Northeast Florida to cover the convention.

Weinstein said media covering the Super Bowl in 2005 filled the 966-room Downtown Adam’s Mark Jacksonville Hotel, rebranded as the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront in April 2005.

Weinstein said coordinating news broadcast sets, security for press credentials and ensuring adequate Downtown internet bandwidth will all be “manageable” challenges. 

“I would think that we’re going to get a national and international press here, so they need the technology setups and they need the space setups for them to do their job,” Weinstein said. 

“And you throw in a lack of timing and the pandemic issues, this is a real challenge. And I’m sure we’re up to it, but it’s going to take a lot of work.” 

‘Resources will come’

The Jacksonville Super Bowl committee had five years to raise $20 million to host the event, and Weinstein said it would cost $70 million to $80 million to host a Super Bowl in 2020.

The nonprofit 501(c)(3) RNC host committee has not released a fundraising target, but Charlotte organizers planned to raise $70 million for the convention before the “celebration” elements of the RNC were moved to Jacksonville, reported The Charlotte Observer.

Weinstein said the money raised by the Super Bowl committee was weighed against the economic impact. 

About 100 to 125 vendors, companies and small businesses, many local, rented short-term space Downtown for one to two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Weinstein said, selling food and “knickknacks” and providing services.

In 2016, Cleveland planned for 50,000 people to attend the the Republican National Convention.

Weinstein predicts the economic return from the RNC will bring direct spending at a time when the region’s businesses need to recoup losses from the COVID-19 shutdowns. 

The host committee has stated it anticipates $100 million in benefit from the four-day convention. 

Unlike the Super Bowl, Weinstein said it’s less likely the RNC will create the opportunity for long-term investment or corporate recruiting in Northeast Florida.

“I don’t see the same level of high-situated executives wanting to come here for this with the same sort of state of mind as they came for the Super Bowl,” Weinstein said. 

“The Super Bowl is a big party, and you get to rub shoulders with a lot of people that you normally don’t get to see. This is a political event that has a direct goal in mind, processing a nomination with many speeches. It’s different.” 

Weinstein said the Super Bowl allowed the host committee to target specific business leaders and industries to make connections. 

“But for sure, there’ll be a huge jolt in funding and dollars running through Northeast Florida that wouldn’t have happened without it,” Weinstein said. 

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