3 Things to expect from the 2016 Republican National Convention if you work in downtown Cleveland

By Bethany Chambers, Digital Operations Manager

Cleveland is only a month away from becoming a hotbed of political discourse, even though the 2016 Republican National Convention isn’t until July. According to convention insiders, the international media, conventioneers and more are expected to begin filing into the city in June. So if your plan was to get as far away from here as possible, you’ll need to have banked extra vacation time to avoid the city for the month it sits squarely in the spotlight.

As it turns out, though, that may not be as big of a problem as you’re imagining. Here’s what Clevelanders — and weary weekday commuters — can expect from the upcoming convention.

A Browns Stadium-full worth of visitors — which actually isn’t that many.

The city is expecting 72,000 people during the height of the convention, between delegates, visitors, the media, GOP convention employees and more. According to organizer estimates, there will be more media (15,000) than protestors (5,000) in that group. Altogether it’s the equivalent of a packed Browns Stadium (even if that’s hard to imagine).

While that sounds like a lot of people, it’s not in the context of other, smaller cities that put on much larger events. Look at Daytona Beach, Florida: This city of 62,000 people routinely hosts crowds that are 4x the size of the RNC — and all within a month of each other between the Daytona 500 and Bike Week. Estimates put attendance at 500,000 during the years when I was a reporter in the city. And guess what? Despite what can only be described as a raucous atmosphere, deaths were in the single-digits and residents got used to roadblocks and engine noise.

And remember: Daytonans do this yearly.

Photo credit: erinmariepage via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
At least Cleveland won’t be expecting 70,000 people and their motorcycles. (Photo credit: erinmariepage via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND)

Odd bedfellows will make for engaging TV.

In the last year, ESPN and MSNBC have hosted live broadcasts on East 4th Street. Now they could be broadcasting live in the same week.

Last month the Press Club of Cleveland hosted the panel “All Eyes on CLE: The RNC, 15,000 media and how you can get a piece of the spotlight” discussing expectations with convention producers, local media and tourism officials. A question came up about how the city would handle the unbelievable: The Cavs in the NBA Finals as the Republican National Committee begins setting up at Quicken Loans Arena.

Convention  executive producer Phil Alongi answered by saying “some of us are hoping it’s an early dismissal this year,” for the Cavs, before adding “I’ve got to put it out there.”

That didn’t go over well with an audience that hasn’t had a championship in 52 years.

I threw that point out to Len Komoroski, chief executive officer of the Cavs and The Q, at a Duquesne University alumni event the next week. Komoroski played a significant role in bringing the convention to Cleveland.

After starting his response with “geez, Phil,” Komoroski said Cleveland can still bring home a trophy — and a successful convention.

“The RNC has been a terrific partner and they have done a plan based on us working to be in the Finals that gives them a full month. They’d usually plan to have six weeks, but they’re going to come in on days we aren’t working.”

Aside from sports fans, there will be another group with far less branded apparel. New York-based artist Spencer Tunick, who once got nearly 3,000 people to appear naked en masse on the East Ninth Street pier, announced he’ll be back during the convention for a small-scale nude photo shoot. Mercifully, this will not be on East Fourth Street in front of the TV cameras.

The SportsCenter crowd and the evening news crowd could become one and the same.
The SportsCenter crowd and the evening news crowd could become one and the same.

Traffic won’t be as bad as you think, but restaurant reservations will be worse.

When the RNC was in Tampa in 2012, traffic was a problem. Fortunately, Cleveland has public transportation, where Tampa did not, said Destination Cleveland’s Emily Lauer.

“Most businesses are completely overplaying the disruption,” she said, speaking at the Press Club.

Many organizations (and most state delegations) who are staying outside the city will be arriving by bus, not by individual cars, which will lighten traffic on the freeways. For some of these visitors, the commute will be way worse than yours. About 5 percent of the delegations, including California’s, are staying at Kalahari and Sawmill Creek resorts … 60 miles away in Sandusky.

Parts of downtown will be off limits thanks to a security perimeter being established around The Q. That could mean finding creative routes into work, but is that really any different than what we’ve faced with the Public Square project or any of the other road construction?

Where you will find trouble is in getting into hot spots; if your favorite restaurant has Zack Bruell or Michael Symon’s names attached, you can be pretty sure private bookings will make getting a table a challenge. The good news is: As Cleveland has grown as a foodie destination, myriad smaller establishments off the beaten path will keep you from going hungry.

If you book your lunch reservations now, learn some new routes into the office (whether by foot, bus or car) and plan to enjoy the incredible people-watching that will be on display, the convention will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you get to witness — or as Alongi said, that “you’re playing a supporting role in it.”

To quote Komoroski on this one: “It’s OK to feel good about Cleveland.”

Chambers was formerly a newspaper reporter in Daytona Beach and an expert panelist for the “Ballot 2008” TV news program at WMFE Orlando. She enjoys the sport of politics even more than she dislikes long commutes.