With the 2020 Democratic National Convention expected to attract about 50,000 visitors to Milwaukee, its impact on hotels will be spread well beyond the metro area.
The Democratic National Committee on Monday announced it had selected Milwaukee to host the event, but before the city could win its bid, it needed to contract a minimum of 15,000 hotel rooms within 40 minutes of the city’s convention center district and Fiserv Forum for visitors.
During the months leading up to the announcement, Visit Milwaukee worked with the DNC’s housing team to secure 16,000 rooms at hotels throughout southeastern Wisconsin, including as far west as Waukesha and as far south as Racine.
“Once (the hotels) understood the magnitude of what the convention will bring to the area, all the hotels jumped on board,” said Paul Upchurch, CEO of Visit Milwaukee. “Everyone was 100 percent behind it.”
He said hotels with full-service accommodations and those located closer to downtown and Fiserv Forum have committed more of their inventory than hotels outside the city. Weeks before Milwaukee was selected as host, The Pfister Hotel and Potawatomi Hotel & Casino had already blocked all rooms and amenities for the convention’s use.
Those 16,000 committed rooms would likely only accommodate the party’s staff, delegates and their families, but the four-day convention brings in lobbyists, sponsors and national and international media who will also need a place to stay.
That’s why hotels as far as a two-hour drive from Milwaukee are gearing up for July 2020.
Visitors bureaus in Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Kenosha and Lake County, Ill. all confirmed hotels in those areas either have rooms on hold or have received reservation inquiries from groups attending the convention.
Brad Toll, president of Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Visit Milwaukee in past years has helped find hotels in Milwaukee for visitors attending events at Lambeau Field, so now it’s Green Bay’s chance to return the favor.
“If they do need overflow support, we stand ready to assist them,” he said.
Kenosha and Lake County visitors bureaus said they had made an agreement with Visit Milwaukee to include rooms in those areas in the 16,000-room total.
Similar confirmations also came from multiple outlying hotels including The Edgewater in Madison, which said it had reserved rooms before Milwaukee was selected for the DNC, and the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, according to operator The Marcus Corp.
Kohler Co. hospitality arm Destination Kohler, which operates five-star diamond The American Club resort in Kohler and the new Lodge Kohler in Green Bay among other properties, said the company “is prepared for an increase in reservation requests in connection with the 2020 Democratic National Convention.” Although, it did not confirm receiving any requests or having reserved rooms.
“We think there is gong to be a nice overflow effect from such as large event coming to the Milwaukee area,” said Craig Molitor, president of Fond du Lac Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I’m fairly certain that this is going to have an extremely positive economic impact not just on Milwaukee, but on Fond du Lac, Green Bay and other cities throughout the state.”
Molitor touted the area’s accessibility, noting the time distance from downtown Milwaukee to Fond du Lac is about an hour, while an hour commute in a top tier city “is not more than a drive across town.”
All told, the convention is projected to generate $200 million in economic impact to the area, but that’s a conservative estimate, Upchurch said. The economic impact of the party’s 2016 national convention in Philadelphia amounted to $231 million.
He said a number of factors could impact the total, including “the time of year, so more families could be coming; it’s the Midwest, so it will be more affordable than an East Coast city, and there’s not a Democratic incumbent, so the number of candidates attending will be higher.”