Miami announced on Friday it would pursue the Democratic National Convention in 2016, an event expected to require double the organizing costs of what the region expected to raise to put on the Super Bowl.
Organizers are pushing downtown's AmericanAirlines Arena for a gathering widely expected to put Hillary Clinton atop the Democratic ticket. Initial estimates put the cost as $50 million, about what Tampa paid to host the 2012 Republican convention.
Though both Richard Nixon and George McGovern were nominated at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 1972, the region has since been out of the convention game. Miami pursued the 2000 Democratic convention, but tourism officials have pointed to costs in recent years when explaining why the region wasn't in the hunt for the events that generally draw about 50,000 people for a week of speeches, parties and media events.
"There is truly no better place in the United States to host an event of this nature than Miami-Dade County," reads a letter sent out Friday on county Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez's letterhead and signed by Miami Mayor Tomás P. Regalado, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and county tourism chief William D. Talbert III. "Our airport is one of the biggest and most modern in the country and our hotel inventory is among the most exquisite in the world."
The letter went to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Broward Democrat who serves as head of the Democratic National Committee.
Though the mayors wrote they are "serious about their pursuit of this convention,'' organizers say costs still could scuttle the bid. The Democratic Party has yet to send out specifications for what it requires of host cities, and those details will determine how much money Miami-Dade must raise for the event from a mix of private and public sources.
"It's just an expression of interest," Gimenez said Friday evening. "We'll ferret out (the details) later. If we can't do it because of costs, so be it."
The convention pursuit sets up another debate over the economic impact of holding costly events in one of the country's most popular tourism destinations. Unlike the Super Bowl, conventions take place during the summer, a weaker time for hotel rates in South Florida.
Organizers of the Tampa convention cited a $400 million economic impact, but some academics rejected the claim as boosterism. A 2008 study on conventions by College of Holy Cross researchers Robert Baade and Victor Matheson concluded "these events have a negligible impact on local economies."
Freddy Balsera, a Coral Gables political consultant and public-relations executive, is heading up the organizing committee. Balsera was an early Obama supporter, helped manage the 2008 campaign's Hispanic media operation, and is awaiting Senate approval to serve on a foreign-policy promotion panel appointed by the president.
Balsera said Friday that he's confident the community can raise the money needed to put on the event, and that the payback will justify the investment.
"From an economic-benefit standpoint, it's totally worth it. That's why you see cities competing for it every four years,'' Balsera said. "In addition, I think there's enormous value in the prestige and exposure that the community is going to have all over the world. Especially when you're talking about something that is beyond just a sporting event."