The Equity Factor

Dear Philly, Here’s Some Advice on Hosting the DNC. Regards, Denver

This could be a “full-time job” for Philly’s next mayor.

Philadelphia boosters want to emerge from the 2016 Democratic National Convention without an economic hangover. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Last week, it was announced that Philadelphia will host the 2016 Democratic National Convention — a gig that comes with an estimated $85 million price tag. During the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, the Mile-High City’s host committee helped to raise $60.9 million dollars, which led to, according to this study, a direct economic impact of $80.4 million on the city and county and a combined direct and indirect economic impact of $266.1 million on the region as a whole.

Tom Clark, who has been the CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and executive vice president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce since 2003, remembers the 2008 convention as a pivotal moment for the city, launching it from just another city in flyover country to a major economic power player in the West.

I asked him for advice he’d give to Philadelphia on making the 2016 convention successful, including how to engage residents and the importance of fundraising.

How can the city work with the DNC to make sure that they make their fundraising goal?
That was the big challenge for us. We had to go nationwide with our fundraising. We had some civic pillars, business people you might say, who went with the governor on business trips throughout the country. It was a prodigious enterprise. You feel a little bit like a novice.

The site group for the Democratic National Committee was helpful in pointing us to the right direction, but it was still a challenge. We were just barely squeaking by and actually just fell a little bit short in our fundraising. I think they’ve tightened it up. I’ve watched the Republicans and the demands for the DNC are even tougher. You have to have a certain amount of money in the door, on the front end of your application. It’s the most important piece. We were continuing to raise money up until the very end.

How can the city bring residents into the planning process and make sure that they feel the energy of the convention?
We had an extremely broad group of volunteers. You could volunteer on our website to do anything from drive a vehicle for a VIP that was in town, to direct traffic, to be a greeter. The ability to engage thousands of volunteers gave everybody in the metropolitan region ownership of that event. If I were to look back at one of the great outcomes of that event, people are passionate about this community as I’m sure they’re passionate about Philadelphia. We felt it was our civic duty, but mostly a real honor to be a part of something so extraordinary. We had a unique convention, let’s not kid ourselves. We were either going to walk out with the first woman nominee or the first African-American nominee ever. Everyone wanted to be a part of history.

What long-lasting results from the 2008 convention can you point to that might assuage some of the fears people in Philadelphia might have that conventions only provide a temporary economic boost?
One convention breeds another two conventions. It is an industry; it’s not just a one-off. For us, lots of media came to town who had not been to Denver in a really long time. We had a lot of “cooties” hanging on us from the ‘80s, if you will. We were the second-most polluted city in the country. We had a virtually uninhabited downtown. … We saw an opportunity — if we did it right — to give them a sample, and sometimes a deep dive, into what had happened within that 30-year period. That turned out to have continued, lasting success in terms of our brand recognition and an immeasurable change as far as perception of Denver as a region and a city.

Tom Clark (Credit: Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation)

How important are corporate donations when it comes to overall fundraising?
They are going to be your biggest money. [Colorado] is not a state that has very much money. You had to raise it from the merchant class. You start early and it has to be engaged by respected business people, but a key piece to us was the mayor, other mayors in the region and the governor. They essentially have to lock out time and almost do this as a full-time job. If that commitment isn’t there, then the corporate money won’t come. For us, it was a big deal.

What’s the most amazing or craziest thing you witnessed during the Denver convention?
That’s an easy one. The night Hillary Clinton was going to speak, I gave my credentials to someone else so that they could say that they saw her. I was walking back to the office, which is about three blocks from the Pepsi Center. I looked down the street, which is blocked off, and it’s completely shoulder-to-shoulder full of people — four lanes wide and four blocks deep — all coming at once, led by Bob Schieffer.

I look at the number of metal detectors we have and go, “Aw, shit. We are so fucked. We are going to have a gigantic logjam at the metal detectors.” I drive home to watch the speech on TV and tell my wife, “Tomorrow is going to be the worst PR day we’ve ever had.”

The next morning at 5 a.m., the guy from public works [who oversees the watch commanders, demonstrations and surveillance cameras] calls me and runs through the upcoming day with me. When he gets to the end, I ask, “I saw three or four thousand people coming through in one gigantic plug to get through the metal detectors.”

He says, “Oh yeah, we were watching that. We had extra metal detectors a few blocks down and we had buses for people with delegate credentials to get them into the building. We got everyone in on time.” I could not believe how good they were at anticipating everything that could’ve gone wrong. It was truly their finest hour. It was extraordinary to see that kind of work done.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Alexis Stephens was Next City’s 2014-2015 equitable cities fellow. She’s written about housing, pop culture, global music subcultures, and more for publications like Shelterforce, Rolling Stone, SPIN, and MTV Iggy. She has a B.A. in urban studies from Barnard College and an M.S. in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Tags: philadelphia2016 presidential election

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