'It was a bit of a miracle': How Milwaukee landed the 2024 Republican National Convention

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The 2024 Republican National Convention is officially set to be held in Milwaukee after a unanimous vote by the Republican National Committee, committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced Friday.

"Milwaukee is a world-class city, and we are eager to see it shine in the spotlight come 2024," McDaniel wrote on Twitter.

The decision comes weeks after a GOP site selection panel unofficially picked the Wisconsin city as the host city for the 2024 Republican National Convention.

Milwaukee's selection has been in the works for nearly a year. It started 11 months ago with a mailed invitation that landed on the desk of VISIT Milwaukee president and chief executive Peggy Williams-Smith.

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Williams-Smith checked in with then-Milwaukee Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. He was on board. And the race was on.

On Friday, what had once seemed a preposterous notion — bringing Republicans to a bright blue city on Lake Michigan — became a reality as the Republican National Committee officially selected Milwaukee to host the party's presidential nominating convention in the summer of 2024.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff under ex-President Donald Trump, were on hand to sign a framework agreement with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

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How Milwaukee emerged from the pack to win the bid is a tale of determination, organization and just a little bit of luck. With some cheese, sausage and beer thrown in.

Milwaukee was the last city left standing after the other finalist, Nashville couldn't approve a deal. Nashville's city council was wracked by political discord on holding the event.

"We were lucky enough to garner support across party lines," Williams-Smith said.

And the city somehow managed all of it in the wake of a political hangover: the dashed dreams surrounding the 2020 Democratic Convention, which became a mostly virtual event because of the pandemic.

"A lot of people were enthusiastic about the Democrats coming to Milwaukee because of the opportunity to be on the international stage and to build business into the future for the hospitality industry," said Gerard Randall, who helped spearhead Milwaukee's effort to land the 2024 event.

"And when that didn't happen, for the reasons it didn't happen, I think people were a little skeptical that the Republicans were going to be able to have a successful effort here as well," he said. "But you know, that dissipated pretty quickly. What we found is that almost all of the major corporations who were engaged in the effort to bring the Democrats here in 2020 were certainly making a similar commitment to us."

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There were several key moments along the way. Milwaukee put its best foot forward during the RNC winter meetings in Salt Lake City in early February, with a big bash that celebrated the city's cuisine and hospitality.

"We really ginned up support," Randall said.

A few weeks later, the RNC site selection committee toured the city. Milwaukee touted itself as a "turnkey operation" because of all the work that went into preparing for the Democratic Convention.

From the security footprint to the main venues, Fiserv Forum and Wisconsin Center, to transportation and hotels, all was in place. Significantly, local organizers maintained that delegates and their guests will be housed within 30 minutes of Fiserv Forum.

It was during the site selection visit that Johnson, a Democrat, stepped forward with an impassioned speech to the selection committee members during a dinner at Lake Park Bistro.

Williams-Smith said some site selection members she was dining with picked up their phones "and called mayors around the country saying, 'you've got to meet this guy.' "

During a tour of Fiserv Forum, Priebus helped push the bid, along with the state's former governor, Scott Walker.

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Milwaukee had made it to the final round, along with Nashville.

During one last presentation at RNC offices in Washington, D.C, in March, the bipartisan nature of Milwaukee's bid was emphasized. Johnson and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley were there. So was Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. And Priebus sent a taped message.

"I never wavered in my belief that we were going to get the convention once it was narrowed down to two cities," Randall said.

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Milwaukee was on its way.

The two-year countdown to the convention has now begun.

Final dates haven't been set, but there are three potential windows in July and August of 2024.

Funds have to be raised by local organizers. Randall said the final bill might be $70 million to $75 million. For its part, the city has to apply for a $50 million federal grant for security.

The local organizing committee is on the hook for any cost overruns.

For Milwaukee, the payoff is up to 50,000 visitors, with local organizers claiming the event could produce $200 million in economic benefits.

Contributing: Ella Lee

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: RNC 2024: How Milwaukee landed the 2024 Republican National Convention