Limitations of US Bank Arena force Cincy to withdraw from RNC race

CINCINNATI -- Conservative members of the city's leadership withdrew Cincinnati's bid for the 2016 Republican National Convention after learning facilities in the area aren't quite good enough to host the once-every-four-year event.

The RNC Site Selection Committee was set to narrow the field during a Thursday afternoon conference call, but to the surprise of many, the Queen City decided to pull out of the running. 

Las Vegas also withdrew prior to the formal announcement.

"Prior to the committee’s vote, Cincinnati and Las Vegas notified the RNC that they would no longer pursue their bid to host the 2016 convention," according to RNC spokesperson Ryan Mahoney. "While the committee understands their decision, both cities made a compelling case for 2016 and would make excellent hosts should they pursue efforts to host a future RNC convention."

The Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, Alex M. Triantafilou, told WCPO the group didn’t make the decision until just before the scheduled announcement.

"We learned (the city wouldn’t get selected) last night and then… this morning we kind of talked it through as a group and made the decision in the middle of the day that it was best to just withdraw our bid and maybe reconsider for 2020," he said.

John Barrett, chairman, president and CEO of Western Southern Financial Group, spoke on behalf of the local Host Committee, saying that even though they are "disappointed," they look forward to a bright future for the city.

"It may not be our time to host the Convention in 2016, but I’m confident -- especially with the groundwork that has been laid in this process -- that we’ll have that opportunity in the future.”

The next two opportunities to host the event are in 2020 and 2024.

For the June 2016 event, Cincinnati survived the first culling that nixed Columbus and Phoenix from the mix. Las Vegas, Denver, Kansas City and Cleveland also made it through the first round.

But some questioned whether or not Cincinnati was equipped to handle the influx of 50,000 to 60,000 people to the Tri-State.

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The selection body met last week in Memphis, Tenn., to discuss reports collected by the field teams that visited all five remaining cities over the past couple months. Groups were dispatched to get a “hands-on” look at each city and to go over more technical aspects of each city’s bid.

One of the major issues with Cincinnati's bid had to do with where the event would actually take place, U.S. Bank Arena. Mahoney said the venue doesn't fit the "criteria set forth by the RNC for the main arena."

The venue's management group, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), issued a release that stated the site met all the initial requirements. But additional convention-specific requirements were added after the official site visit that required too much time, effort and money.

"These challenges relate to temporary modifications such as TV platforms that were a unique request that were not easily remedied," a spokesperson for the group wrote in a release.

According to Barrett, AEG stated it was willing to come up with the funds needed to upgrade the space. The ownership group was involved with creating the bid package.

But the cost and the timetable were just too much to overcome.

Barrett told WCPO's Carol Williams the RNC wanted an arena that featured 80 luxury boxes and the venue in downtown Cincinnati has only 38.

Overall, the space requires millions of dollars more in improvements and upgrades than what was planned, a Host Committee member told Mayor John Cranley's office.

That same member told the mayor that they received a letter from the RNC a week ago informing them the facility didn't meet technical specifications. 

U.S. Bank Arena, which can house just over 17,000 for a standard concert, hasn't undergone a major renovation since the $14 million facelift the 41-year-old building received in 1997.

In addition to issues with the arena, the city’s host committee still had to come up with about $50 million in funding to appease the GOP. It also had to prove the area would have the hotel space and entertainment venues needed to accommodate a convention-sized crowd for several days.

There were also fears that Cincinnati lacked the public transportation options needed to house such a large-scale event. However, that was not a publicly stated reason for why the city wasn't going to be picked.

Although Barrett said back in April that the city had all the necessary bells and whistles, just on a more "compact," "very walkable" scale.

The convention was expected to have a direct economic impact of $150 million on the Greater Cincinnati area.

RNC officials will move on to official site visits for the remaining cities in June.

Further cuts will be made from late June through August and initial negotiations could begin. The final step will be a vote on the final city by the full RNC governing


Below is a statement from Triantafilou:

Earlier today, the Host Committee working on bringing the RNC Convention to Cincinnati in 2016 withdrew their bid.  The decision to withdraw was made after careful consultation with the Republican National Committee and with our team.  Las Vegas also withdrew today as well.

The effort to bring this world-class event to Cincinnati was an outstanding exercise in cooperation and teamwork for our entire region.  Supporters from every corner of the Tri-State area worked together and across partisan lines. Showcasing our city to the world brought all of us great civic pride.  In the end, we may have fallen short, but the cause of advancing Cincinnati as a place worthy of such an event was successful.

Congratulations to those cities who remain part of the process.

Although the effort to bring the Convention to Cincinnati in 2016, our effort to elect a Republican President is just beginning.

To every Republican who has offered their thoughts, help, and good wishes, I can only say a sincere "thank you." The Hamilton County Republican Party is full of great volunteers, donors, and supporters from across the region and this effort only demonstrated that to us once again.

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