Designed Events owners Mark Shine and John Montgomery have not taken a paycheck from their business since April.
So when the Republican National Convention announced it was coming to Jacksonville, the two hoped it would bring a boost to their event planning and catering business, which has received little work since the start of the pandemic.
He had one party signed, which canceled July 8. That would have been for 300-400 Texas delegates. Shine said another series of three parties would have been for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with 100 people each.
When President Donald Trump canceled the RNC’s Jacksonville events July 23, potential vendors lost the opportunity to profit from them.
Shine said he refunded the Texas group for the $25,000-$30,000 party. He had not signed a contract for McConnell’s parties.
“I was disappointed because we don’t have a lot in August,” he said. “All of our weddings from August were moved to next year. We were counting on that financially to help us get out of the woods a little bit better.”
While Shine said he was looking forward to the revenue the RNC would bring in, he was relieved it was canceled.
“It’s disappointing to lose the money, but then the way the world is, especially now with COVID being so bad in Jacksonville and Florida, a lot of my people didn’t want to work,” he said. “That was sort of a blessing in disguise that they canceled. But I know a lot of people put time and effort into it.”
Although Designed Events was on the RNC preferred vendor list, the bookings he had did not come from there.
About 1,000 vendors were on the list. They ranged from hotels and restaurants to florists and car services.
Vendors had to fill out an application to be placed on the preferred vendor list. On July 9, the host committee held a showcase for about 75 businesses to meet with members of the RNC Host Committee and various delegations.
Bonnie’s Floral Designs was a preferred vendor and attended the RNC showcase.
Owner Bonnie Arnold said she did not receive any business from the event as she hoped she and other small business owners would.
“My business is still doing well but there are a lot of people, small businesses, that are really scared now,” she said. “They saw it as an opportunity to get them through.”
Anita Comisky, owner of Amelia Toffee Company, said had the event happened, she would have provided toffee for guests’ welcome bags.
She did not sign a contract and did not buy any extra supplies. She said all she lost was the time she spent at the RNC showcase. Although she won’t get any business from the RNC, the process was not a total loss.
“From a standpoint of visibility, I don’t think it ever hurts,” she said. “We love getting our brand out there. We don’t like being associated with bad news when things don’t materialize. But it’s still PR and eyes on our product.”
Jon Davis, owner and CEO of Sight & Sound Productions and Mugwump Productions, event planning and production companies, said he hoped the RNC would help the company through August, which historically is one of its slowest months.
He did not sign any contracts for the event, but said he was in discussions with a few delegate groups when the convention was canceled. Those groups were hesitant to book until they were sure the event would proceed.
Davis said he had been reaching out to event venues and groups to let them know they could host parties.
He hoped the RNC would lift up everyone in the hospitality industry after being “one of the hardest hit” during the pandemic.
“I was very sad that evening, I was really looking forward to it coming to town,” Davis said.
“There are so many hotel friends of mine that are just trying to get their properties back up and running,” he said.
“I still believe any time Jacksonville can be highlighted in the country, it’s a great day for Jacksonville. I’m kind of disappointed they couldn’t find a way to do it safely.”
Comisky said that even if the RNC did happen, its economic impact would not have been as advertised, especially since the host committee announced attendance would be limited.
The RNC Host Committee said in a news release that typical conventions can potentially “inject $100+ million into the local economy.”
In a July 21 news conference, Mayor Lenny Curry said he expected the economic impact to be less than $100 million, but did not provide an estimate.
The day before Trump canceled the Jacksonville events, Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee President Trent Morse told the Southside Business Men’s Club that he expected up to 10,000 delegates, alternates and guests to be in Northeast Florida for the convention, as well as additional law enforcement and supporting vendors.
“So we really see the $100 million economic impact,” he said.
The local vendors aren’t so sure.
“If you sit down and push the numbers, I don’t think it would have been as much of an increase as they originally thought,” Comisky said.
The small business owners said they had a feeling the Jacksonville RNC events would be canceled but decided to sign up for the vendor list anyway.
Jacksonville was announced June 11 as a site for the events. Arnold said that given the brief time the city had to prepare, cancellation always was a possibility.
“When things happen quickly and impulsively, they often don’t happen,” she said.
Since the event was canceled, Comisky said she has not heard from the host committee. She sent the group “thank you” emails that went unacknowledged.
“I never heard another word from anyone, and I’m surprised at that,” she said. “The word came from the president, OK, everyone pack up and go home.”