Last updated on August 24th, 2020 at 09:00 pm
The virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention wrapped Thursday night with a scene quite different from what downtown Milwaukee had looked like most of the week.
After delivering a 25-minute acceptance speech from his home state of Delaware, former Vice President Joe Biden stepped out of an empty Chase Center in Wilmington to a fireworks show and packed parking lot of cars– lights flashing, horns blaring. A stage and large screen had been set up for an invite-only viewing party, drive-in movie theater style.
Biden, with his wife Jill, and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, with her husband Douglas Emhoff (all clad in face masks), greeted and waved at supporters, some sitting on top of cars and waving flags.
Meanwhile, the sun was setting on what most would consider a disappointing week for many businesses in Milwaukee, which would have benefited from 50,000 visitors and $200 million in economic impact if a full-scale convention had taken place in what was supposed to be the host city for the DNC.
Thursday night’s celebration in Wilmington was live streamed as part of the convention’s official prime time programming, but it also garnered national media coverage from the 26 networks that had sent reporters to Wilmington for the convention, said Jennifer Boes, director of marketing content and media relations at the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“The exposure that this has given us over the last four or five days, and it’s going to be giving us going forward, you can’t even put a dollar amount on the value of that,” said Boes.
What’s more, two of the three hotels near Wilmington’s riverfront were sold out and a number of hotels outside the area saw an uptick in bookings during the convention thanks to visiting media, convention staff, and out-of-town Biden supporters who came “just to be part of things,” she said. Restaurants along the riverfront were packed.
“It was a great thing for us, especially because of the damage COVID-19 has done to our economy as it’s done to everybody’s,” said Boes.
Up until about two weeks ago, Biden was set to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination live from the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee, even after the majority of the event had been converted to a remote format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
When Biden and other top Democrats backed out of plans to travel to Milwaukee in the interest of public health, the city’s role as convention host was reduced to a third-floor room in the Wisconsin Center, used to take in hundreds of live video feeds from across the country and to stage a handful of appearances from local and state Democrats throughout the week.
According to VISIT Milwaukee, remaining in-person DNC activity had an estimated economic impact of about $3 million here, with convention-related visitors using about 4,000 hotel room nights throughout the week That’s compared to 16,000 total hotel rooms originally needed to win the convention bid.
Only about 250 people were involved in the DNC’s day-to-day operations at the Wisconsin Center, according to Marty Brooks, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Center District, including the building’s staff.
Thursday night in downtown Milwaukee wasn’t as quiet as the earlier part of the week. A group of peaceful protestors took to the streets ahead of the DNC’s closing program, calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism that “have been enabled by both the Democratic and Republican leaders,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
Coalition to March on the DNC, which describes itself as a national left-wing activist group working with dozens of local groups and activists, led about 150 demonstrators from Red Arrow Park to the Milwaukee Police Department administration building, around the security perimeter outside the Wisconsin Center, ending at the ICE office on Knapp Street.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin was the only Wisconsin official to appear during Thursday’s program. Several state and local Democrats had made brief appearances earlier in the week, including U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, DNC secretary and Milwaukee native Jason Rae and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Tuesday. Most made mention of the missed opportunity to welcome 50,000 visitors to Milwaukee this week.
Local community and business leaders in recent months have made a case for the Democrats to bring the convention back to Milwaukee in 2024. Barrett echoed that call Thursday, telling WISN 12 News, a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee, that a campaign has already begun.
“I think that we demonstrated to the Democratic National Convention, and to anybody that was looking, that we can hit major league pitching, we are capable of doing a convention like this,” said Barrett.
Work is underway to organize a coalition of civic leaders to pursue the opportunity, he said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is also the co-chair of the Biden campaign committee, is also on board, In an interview with WISN 12 earlier this week, he said Milwaukee should host the party’s next convention in four years.
The following gallery is a collection of both original and contributed images from the 2020 virtual DNC in Milwaukee: