Twitter was abuzz over the weekend with news that Birmingham, Alabama was one of the six cities that submitted a bid to host the Democratic National Convention in 2016, joining Cleveland, Columbus, New York, Philadelphia and Phoenix. The Democratic National Committee back in April invited 15 cities to make a proposal, and these six responded by the deadline.
A Technical Advisory Committee will now evaluate all of the cities. Members of the committee will visit each prospective site and study their ability to handle the logistical challenges that come with hosting an event of this magnitude.
“Hosting a party convention is a true honor and we’re thrilled with all the fantastic options that we have going into the next cycle,” DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said in a press release. “We look forward to evaluating these bids and selecting a city to host this special gathering of Democrats.”
So what are Birmingham’s chances of actually landing the DNC in 2016?
My initial reaction was “not even a snowball’s chance in…”
But let’s at least start by looking at the facts.
Below is a quick history of recent Democratic National Conventions, including the host venue’s capacity. Although it’s hard to keep a straight face while comparing the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) Arena to, say, the Staples Center in L.A., from a strictly capacity standpoint, the BJCC seems to stack up alright.
But although the BJCC’s capacity is probably large enough to host an event of this size, the truth is, it is a dinosaur. It is not anywhere near the same class of facility that the other potential host cities have to offer. That by itself likely eliminates Birmingham from having any legitimate chance at landing the DNC in 2016.
Another variable the Technical Advisory Committee will undoubtedly be looking at is the number of hotel rooms that each city has to offer. The DNC probably needs at least 15,000.
As you can see from the graphic above, cvent.com estimates that Birmingham has almost 20,000 rooms in the greater metro area. However, the number in the actual city, which is what the DNC will be looking at, is more like 12,000. It’s also worth keeping in mind that a reasonable portion of the city’s existing rooms (2,000-3,000) would be held for current customers of these hotels. They are not going to tell their regular customers not to come during a specific period.
Birmingham’s lack of hotel hotel accommodations by itself likely eliminates it from contention.
Third, it’s going to take a very sophisticated and costly transportation system to transport the crowds around during the DNC. Birmingham’s public transportation system recently ranked 94th among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, according to The Brookings Institute.
Birmingham’s lack of transportation infrastructure by itself, again, likely eliminates the city from contention.
There are also political realities working against Birmingham’s bid to land the convention.
For all practical purposes, the Democratic Party doesn’t even exist in Alabama anymore. If the national Party is at all concerned with making sure a competent, well-organized state party is handling things on the ground in the run-up to the convention, they shouldn’t even give Alabama a second thought. Especially considering that fact that they will need an estimated 7,000 volunteers to work the event.
Additionally, national Party’s have in recent years started to view their conventions as an opportunity to influence voters in key swing states, which Alabama most certainly is not. (Editor’s note: Barack Obama only won 38.36% of the vote in Alabama in 2012.)
Zac McCrary of Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, a Montgomery-based Democratic polling firm whose clients include President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and many other national Democratic leaders, explained to Yellowhammer that this trend is likely to continue in 2016.
“It’s great that Birmingham is being mentioned as a contender for a national party convention and this can only benefit Birmingham by raising its profile as a national destination,” said McCrary. “While I’ll be rooting for Birmingham’s selection, I believe both parties are coming to view conventions as not just national stages for their nominees, but as opportunities to generate earned media, volunteers, and to develop a field program in a critical swing state. The 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver is credited with helping the Obama campaign carry Colorado — and both parties selected swing states in 2012. I suspect that trend is likely to continue, making Birmingham an underdog to host a convention in 2016.”
With that in mind, the two Ohio cities vying for the convention may have a leg up on the competition. No Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio.
So here’s the deal: Birmingham has absolutely zero chance of hosting the 2016 DNC. But that doesn’t mean the city shouldn’t continue trying to land big events like this.
“I applaud the City of Birmingham and the Convention Bureau officials for putting our city into the mix for hosting the 2016 DNC,” said Gene Hallman, CEO of the Birmingham-based Bruno Event Team, one of the nation’s largest event management companies. “Regardless of the outcome, the City will benefit from the positive exposure. We need to continue to promote Birmingham’s image as a great event host.”
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims