Day one of virtual DNC features heavy security, quiet streets in downtown Milwaukee

Heavy police and Secret Service presence at one of the perimeter's main checkpoints.

Last updated on August 18th, 2020 at 05:37 pm

The 2020 Democratic National Convention has finally arrived, but it looks nothing like the event Milwaukee had originally anticipated as host city.

Due to the ongoing COVVID-19 pandemic, the DNC has been reduced to an all-virtual format, with convention proceedings, committee meetings, voting, and keynote speeches all taking place remotely.

The Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee remains the technical hub for the four-day convention. It houses a video control center taking in hundreds of live video feeds from across the country for the event’s nightly programming.

The third-floor conference room is also where a number of local and state politicians will deliver brief speeches, including U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, DNC Secretary Jason Rae, Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Moore is among the speakers set for the convention’s opening night, prior to keynote addresses by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Despite the lack of in-person activity at the Wisconsin Center, barricaded roads and tall fencing marks the security perimeter around the building. Local law enforcement and U.S. Secret Service are stationed at several checkpoints inside.

There were a couple of demonstrations on the outskirts of the perimeter Monday morning, including the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139. The group was protesting national equipment rental company Sunbelt Rentals over recent labor disputes with its Franksville facility.

Two members of the union said they had arrived at 7 a.m. on Monday to set up inflatable caricatures and signage outside the DNC perimeter as part of an ongoing bannering campaign at sites where Sunbelt equipment is being used.

Instead of the estimated 50,000 visitors that were expected to descend upon the region for the DNC, day one of the convention is marked with heavy security and police presence, a few street closures, meandering members of the media, and a slow start to the day for at least one downtown bar-restaurant.

“We’ve had a few customers, maybe a little more than a handful come to eat, and a couple of to-go orders in addition to that,” said Marty Petricca, general manger at Major Goolsby’s. “Certainly we’d like to (capitalize on the convention), but so far, it’s basically been me talking to media.”

The longtime establishment is located on the corner of West Kilbourn Avenue and Vel R. Philips Avenue, the northeast corner of the convention’s security perimeter. The intersection has been closed down with barricades.

Petricca told BizTimes Milwaukee late Monday morning that he didn’t know if business would pick up at night during the convention’s main programming, but the live broadcast will be streamed on at least a few of the bar’s 50 TVs.

“It’s a major blow to business that (the DNC) is not in town,” he said, on top of the overall impact of COVID-19.

Milwaukee originally expected an estimated regional economic impact of $200 million from hosting the convention, but businesses have had to move on from that prospect. The city was also promised a place in the international spotlight thanks to ample media exposure.

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Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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