Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said bringing a portion of the Aug. 24-27 Republican National Convention to Northeast Florida in August will be a boost for local small businesses.
He held an early morning virtual news conference June 12 just hours after the Republican National Committee announced President Donald Trump will accept the 2020 GOP presidential nomination in Jacksonville.
Curry said restaurants, breweries and small retailers, which were shut down by social distancing and crowd restrictions early in the COVID-19 pandemic, should benefit from the RNC. Larger businesses should too, he said.
“Many (business owners) tell me the reopening is happening and they’re starting to get back on their feet, but they’re struggling,” Curry said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for them and their families and their customers to get money back in the economy and get people back to work.”
Trump was to deliver his speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, but disagreements with officials there over COVID-19 capacity restrictions led to Trump and RNC officials teasing Jacksonville as a “top contender” for an alternate site, the Florida GOP said in a June 9 tweet.
All of the convention is not moving to Jacksonville. A Duval GOP spokesperson said the business portion of the convention, including the party delegates’ official vote on Trump’s nomination, will remain in Charlotte.
“We’re going to get a majority of the economic development in the events,” Curry said.
Paying for the RNC
The city and local fundraisers have 75 days to secure the money needed to pay for costs associated with bringing Trump’s nomination acceptance to Jacksonville.
Curry said June 12 the RNC “is not an event that is paid for by the city of Jacksonville. Members of a nonprofit host committee will be announced soon, which Curry said will raise “tens of millions of dollars” from private donations to pay for convention expenses.
JAX Chamber President and CEO Daniel Davis filed paperwork June 9 with the state Division of Corporations to create 2020 Jacksonville Host Committee Inc. as local GOP officials anticipated the national party’s announcement. The documents list U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Johns County Republican, and Visit Jacksonville President Michael Corrigan as co-directors.
Federal and state law enforcement will be brought in for security, and Curry said Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams will work with law enforcement agencies from surrounding counties.
The Charlotte City Council accepted a $50 million security grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in April connected to hosting the RNC, according to The Charlotte Observer newspaper and news site. It also said the Charlotte host committee was charged with raising almost $70 million for the event.
Curry said he didn’t know how the security money would be transferred to Jacksonville, but said the city could use cash on hand, reserve dollars typically used as a stop gap for FEMA emergency relief aid during hurricane recovery, if the government can’t reimburse security costs in a timely manner.
“We don’t expect to get into that situation which we’ve had in hurricanes. We don’t expect to get into that situation in this event. We’ve always got reimbursed and gotten reimbursed timely since I’ve been mayor of the city related to federal government commitments,” Curry said.
The host committee released a statement June 11 estimating the RNC would bring more than $100 million into the local economy, based on studies from past large-scale events.
Curry said June 12 that the numbers were based on available data from events like the 2004 Super Bowl and the annual Florida-Georgia football game at TIAA Bank Field.
RNC and COVID-19
Curry said he didn’t know until it was announced by media that the national GOP settled on Jacksonville over other bids from Nashville, Tennessee, and Savannah, Georgia, as the site for Trump’s acceptance speech.
Curry said in the news release June 11 that Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jordan Elsbury and Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes worked to bring the event to Jacksonville.
Curry said Elsbury, Hughes and Visit Jacksonville President and CEO Michael Corrigan secured more than 10,000 hotel rooms and worked with ASM Global, the manager of VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, to line up venues.
The city will have COVID-19 safety protocols in place in and around the event venue, Curry said, but his administration has not released details June 12.
When asked by a reporter from Politico if Jacksonville had to make upfront concessions to forgo face masks when Trump gives his speech, a condition the president publicly pushed back on with the North Carolina governor, Curry did address face coverings specifically.
Curry said “there are no guarantees” in public safety.
“Clearly, the RNC wants a large event with a lot of people. I want that too. By the way, I want sports back with a lot of people in arenas and stadiums, and it seems we’re heading in that direction. That’s how we’re planning and reacting given the data that we have,” Curry said.
“At the same time, I want to get people back to work in this city,” Curry said. “This is a major event that will bring jobs and economic recovery to a whole lot of people in this city.”