7 Takeaways From the DNC Panelist Discussion

The DNC panelists talked about everything from security and traffic to celebrities and last call.

The spotlight will shine brighter on Milwaukee than ever before when the city hosts the Democratic National Convention next July. More than 50,000 people are expected to flock to the Milwaukee area for the convention, which will take place at the Fiserv Forum, the sparkling downtown arena that opened last year. As many as 2,000 events tied to the convention will be held for the throngs of out-of-towners, as well as local residents looking to be part of history.

A trio of panelists from cities that have hosted major events offered their advice to a crowd of more than 300 people, including many business operators, that packed the Italian Community Center on Friday morning for an event put on by the Milwaukee 2020 DNC Host Committee.

The panel included:

      • Diane Downing, former chief operating officer of the Cleveland Host Committee (Cleveland hosted the 2016 Republican National Convention)
      • Andrea Mokros,  who served as vice president of communications and events for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee (Minneapolis hosted the 2018 Super Bowl)
      • Angela Val, the one-time deputy executive director of the Philadelphia Host Committee (Philadelphia hosted the 2000 Republican National Convention and the 2016 Democratic National Convention).

Here are seven takeaways from the panelists:




What to Expect

Downing: “The year after the RNC was in Cleveland, we saw a 30 percent growth in meetings and other events. The economic benefit in 2017, the year after the convention, was about $8 billion to our regional economy. Stay coordinated with the host committee. It really is the long game.”

Val: “You are inviting the rest of the world, including many international visitors and media, into your city. It’s it is like having Thanksgiving at your home. You are going to want to put your best foot forward, no matter what your party affiliation is. That is not what this is about. Many people will learn about your city for the very first time. Take advantage of this opportunity because it is going to allow you later on to go after some really big events.”




Changing Perceptions

Downing: “”Many people who had not been there recently just thought about Cleveland as the city where the river burned. This is a big event to put on. It is seen nationally and globally. Please work closely with your host committee. This is something, done well, that will benefit you. It has benefitted Cleveland. We had the Major League Baseball All-Star Game this year, we are having the NFL draft, we have seen an incredible increase in meetings and conventions.”




Off-the-Wall Venues

Mokros: “Some of the biggest events were in spaces that weren’t even event spaces. They were raw, empty storefronts. If you know of those spaces on your street, it’s a great way to make sure that street is vibrant and has things happening during the week. We filled them with pop-up shops, selling crafts and local products. It was really successful. For those of you that aren’t in the city center, I would think about where your proximity is to a local hotel and how you can make that connection.”

Downing: “Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so a lot of our events were at that venue, but in wanting to be near the water there were events in parking lots down by our riverfront and grassy areas down by our lakefront. One of our historic arcades hosted pop-up stores to benefit local merchants.”

Val: “A group decided to have their party at a department store that had been abandoned, basically. We also had an event at Urban Outfitters. Their headquarters building is a beautiful building.”





Val: “No. Go downtown. Go to work.”

Downing: “At the beginning of the week, there were more people working from home but as the convention went on, they saw that you could navigate around the security perimeter. People came downtown. Restaurants were busy. By the last day of the convention, it was a big, big party.”

Mokros: “Folks should continue life as normal. We want the vibrant downtown. For the Super Bowl, we have a vibrant skyway culture in Minnesota, and those skyway businesses are used to being open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day. Our Super Bowl event started at 4 o’clock every day, so when people were starting to come to those events, those skyway businesses were closed, and they missed out on an opportunity. Let me tell you, some of those taco places would have made some money had they been open for the crowd flowing out.”




Later Last Call

Downing: “We had to get special legislation. It’s a good idea. You need to do it.”

Mokros: “For (businesses) that were in the immediate vicinity of hotels, that makes an especially big difference.”




No Worries

Downing: “I think people are always concerned about where the security perimeter is going to be. The Secret Service, for security reasons, is not going to announce that too much in advance of the convention. But you will know it and it will be very clear to you as your navigating the area. It’s just not that difficult in the end but it is something that causes a lot of angst before the event.”

Mokros: “One thing to plan for is how are your employees going to get to work that week. Do they need to plan for a little extra time? Do you want to give them public transportation passes?




Celebrity Sightings

Mokros: “For the Super Bowl, we had a fair amount of celebrities. We had Justin Timberlake, and everyone wanted to talk about where he had dinner the night before. He did go out and eat at local restaurants and stayed at a hotel not too far from town. He had such a great experience at one of our restaurants he tweeted about it the next day, not the restaurant. How are you going to provide a great moment for them?

The Host Committee is seeking to work with venues of all sizes, traditional and unique. Businesses interested in hosting an event can register here



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.