Republican convention organizer: Here's the most surprising part of setting up our big 2016 event


mitt romney paul ryan 2012 convention rnc

REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Then-presidential nominee Mitt Romney and vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan wave to the audience after Romney's acceptance speech in 2012.

Preparing for the 2016 Republican National Convention is no easy task.


The Republican Party is set to officially nominate its presidential and vice-presidential candidates next July in Cleveland, Ohio. Like its Democratic counterpart, the Republican convention comes with a steep price tag: more than $60 million.

David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, visited Business Insider's office at the end of October and discussed some of the operational challenges of the big event.

Gilbert said the most surprising aspect of the preparations was how his host committee, a nonprofit promoting the city of Cleveland, interacted with the overtly political Committee on Arrangements for the 2016 Republican National Convention.

"It's an interesting construct of how a host committee and a committee on arrangements interact," Gilbert said. "Because both organizations have the same goal in mind in that you want a great convention, but you have very different visions."


He added: "The RNC wants a great convention so they have the best platform to set their candidate up for election. ... From our perspective, we want a great convention in many ways to set up our community for the future."

Gilbert told Business Insider that there were a "lot of compromises" involved in his host committee's somewhat "tension-filled relationship" with the Republican National Committee. He cited hotel rooms as an example of an issue on which the two convention committees would sometimes have diverging interests.

"We have to collect and contract upwards of 60,000 hotel rooms," he said, referencing what Cleveland promised in order to secure the convention. "But then we turn them over to the Committee on Arrangements. And it's up to them parcel them out ... however they view their priorities - based on state delegations, or their donors, lots of different [things]. It's quite frankly a pretty unenviable task."

He continued: "Those are all things I'm glad I'm not involved in. You're never going to make friends that way. But we also need hotel rooms for our donors. So how high up on the priority [list] are we? So those are things where we get the hotel rooms, we hand it over to them, and then we have to ask them for them back. So there's a lot of little things like that."


Gilbert also pointed to agreements his committee made with hotels and restaurants as areas where he had to strike an "interesting balance" between competing priorities.

"We had a huge number of hotels in our bid. They voluntarily signed an agreement to hold 90% of their hotel rooms. This was almost every hotel within a 35-mile radius," he said. "We had to lock up the rooms. Well, we had a small handful of hotels that didn't honor their agreement. And they went out to the highest bidder."

He said he had to threaten some lawsuits, but it was "tough because when the convention's over, we still live with all these people."

"We didn't have to have signed commitments from restaurants," he added. "We had about 70 different venues, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to different restaurants, that we have asked on behalf of the Committee on Arrangements to sign an agreement."

However, one of the most famous restaurants in Cleveland balked when the chef got offered a lot of money by an unnamed big media outlet for an event. Gilbert said the Committee on Arrangements was upset, but they "ended up working out a deal."


"It's a very interesting, in some ways tension-filled relationship," Gilbert said. "It's just built in. It's built into the model of the whole thing. It's a lot of compromise, a lot of dancing. But in the end you want to get to the same place."

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