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How losing the Republican National Convention bid in 2006 turned Cleveland around for the 2021 NFL Draft

Trump demands immediate answer from governor on RNC capacity
Posted at 4:45 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 18:22:44-04

CLEVELAND — There’s an old saying “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” It was luckily a saying that Cleveland leaders adopted 15 years ago after bidding for the 2008 Republican National Convention.

In Cleveland's pitch to the RNC Site Selection Committee in the summer of 2006, there were marching bands, fireworks even an indoor laser show — bells and whistles they hoped might hide the holes in the Cleveland bid. Still, Mayor Frank Jackson, just a few months into his first term, was confident.

"We have demonstrated in my opinion that Cleveland is the best place to hold the Republican National Convention in 2008,” Jackson said proudly.

The reality is they didn’t, and the convention nominating Sen. John McCain would go to Minneapolis, but Cleveland was given something.

"When we came in second they actually critiqued us,” Mayor Jackson recounted a few years later. “So we remembered where we fell short."

They not only remembered, but with a checklist, they went to town over the next eight years building a new state-of-the-art convention center and new hotels, including replacing the old county administration building with the Downtown Hilton. There was a complete overhaul of Public Square as well as $16 million in improvements to Playhouse Square. In all, more than $4 billion worth of improvements were made to the city's core.

Cleveland would be asked to bid the 2012 convention but we were in construction mode then; 2016 was what they wanted. When the RNC’s technical team made its preliminary visit to the city, they were floored.

"I mean the technical team came back to us and said guys you gotta check this out,” said then RNC Chair Reince Priebus in 2014. “Cleveland has really done an incredible job."

The city would not only land the 2016 convention, but pull it off successfully without incident, and in so doing, they sent a message to the holders of the biggest events out there that you may have to vet other cities - not Cleveland.

“The fact that the RNC was on our resume as having hosted and really successfully hosted...it was certainly one of the selling points we had with the NFL that we could absolutely could successfully host the Draft," said David Gilbert, President and CEO of Destination Cleveland.

In true Cleveland fashion, the city turned a loss a decade earlier into a win, the return on which continues to pay off.