Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, the Democratic National Convention that was originally scheduled for July 13-16 at Fiserv Forum, will now be pushed to the week of August 17.
An April 2 tweet from the 2020 Democratic National Convention Twitter said pushing back the convention date will allow “more time to determine the most appropriate structure for this historic event.” In a previous tweet on March 14, the convention team said it will “continue to monitor the developing coronavirus situation” and “will remain in constant communication with the local, state, and federal officials responsible for protecting public health and security.”
The DNC is where the democratic party’s presidential candidate for 2020 election will be determined. Preparations for the historic event have been in place for more than a year, even though the event is only four days long.
Originally, Milwaukee was expecting more than 50,000 visitors to attend the event at Fiserv Forum, home to Marquette Men’s basketball team.
While it is uncertain how many visitors are expected with the later date and when local businesses will reopen, many can still enjoy the atmosphere Milwaukee has to offer.
To help determine the university’s role for the convention, Marquette has a steering committee led by co-chairs Lynn Griffith, senior director of university communication, and Mary Czech-Mrochinski, associate vice president for public affairs.
“We want to play our role, and we would be doing it whether this was the Democratic convention or the Republican convention,” Czech-Mrochinski says. “We’re just trying to be a good city partner.”
The committee is made up of 10 members, Czech-Mrochinski says, with five different subcommittees: academics; safety and security; operations; finances and marketing; and branding. Griffith says it is a “cross-sectional group” that brings together representatives from different areas of the university.
With the addition of COVID-19 precautions, the committee continues to meet and plan by communicating remotely via email and phone, Griffith says. She says they are confident that the city of Milwaukee and the Democratic National Convention Committee are working alongside public health officials to plan the convention, and the committee is following their guidance.
With the original plan, Griffith says nearly all residence halls will be rented out to convention guests. Summer housing for students will be available in The Commons’ Eckstein Tower. Other venues, like the Alumni Memorial Union ballrooms, auditorium spaces and 707 Hub, will be available for rent for organizations and media outlets hosting events during the convention.
The residence halls and campus locations are expected to be rented out by guests during the convention week and the week prior but not likely throughout the rest of the month, Griffith says.
The convention security perimeter announced in January reaches 10th St., which means Straz Tower is included in the perimeter. Czech-Mrochinski says the steering committee has been reaching out to campuses in other cities that have hosted past political conventions to get insight regarding how to deal with the increase traffic and security during that week.
“It’s not going to be uncommon for you to have to have a student ID to show,” Czech-Mrochinski says. “(Students should be mindful of) how this is going to change the city operationally — like where students are going to be able to go, are buses going to be rerouted?”
Griffith says the university is also working to inform students of opportunities they will have to get involved with the convention and the various corporations, media outlets and other visitors that will be in Milwaukee for the week.
PLACES TO STAY
When Milwaukee was submitting its bid to be considered as the convention host city, all hotels had to submit the number of rooms they would have available during the convention, DoubleTree general manager Jeff Welk says.
The DoubleTree at 611 W. Wisconsin Ave. is one of the multiple hotels located within the security perimeter. Welk says the hotel will house delegates from Maryland and New Hampshire during the convention.
“It’s going to be, I think, fast and furious,” Welk says. “Our concern for our employees is will they be able to get to the actual facility, get here to work via driving or will they have to make alternate arrangements, because we are in the security perimeter.”
In August 2019, it was announced approximately half of the delegates will be staying at hotels in Illinois. Hotels in downtown Milwaukee will host the delegates from Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. Other delegations will stay at hotels near the Milwaukee airport, hotels in Waukesha, Wauwatosa and Brookfield. Rosemont and Lake County, Illinois will also house delegates for the convention.
The city of Milwaukee proposes legislation to extend bar hours in the Milwaukee area — and potentially throughout Wisconsin — to 4 a.m. during the convention. This has been met with mixed reviews, as some businesses and individuals support the legislation on the grounds that it will be a good opportunity for visitors to go to bars and see the city, while others express safety concerns regarding increased hours of alcohol consumption.
The bars and restaurants near Fiserv Forum and the surrounding areas will be renting out their spaces, Richard Lorbach, founder and creative director of Drink Wisconsinbly Pub, says. He says he does not expect his pub, which is located right across from Fiserv Forum, to have business affected much by the convention.
While Lorbach says he does not know what groups will be renting Drink Wisconsinbly Pub’s space, he says the pub will not be open to the general public during the convention.
“Our bartenders aren’t exactly thrilled with the extra bar time. It’s going to be a long week,” Lorbach says in an email.
One restaurant that is no stranger to high-profile guest visits is right near Marquette’s campus: Miss Katie’s Diner. A family-owned 50s-themed diner, Miss Katie’s has hosted a variety of prominent public figures.
Owner of the family-run restaurant Peter Picciurro says Miss Katie’s was visited on May 23, 1996, by then-U.S. president Bill Clinton and then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Hillary Clinton, who was then working on her presidential campaign, visits the restaurant on Feb. 17, 2008. On Oct. 13, 2010, then-first lady Michelle Obama paid a visit. President Donald Trump also stops into the diner during his campaign in 2016.
Picciurro says he was present for each visit.
“We’ve been here 35 years,” Picciurro says. “All the other politicians, anybody running for office, they say this is … good luck for them, for getting into their office.”
Beyond just the good food, which includes all-day breakfast, Picciurro says he thinks politicians like to visit Miss Katie’s Diner because it gives them an opportunity to sit down and eat alongside “the average Joe.” But, he says he is not sure if any politicians will be visiting the restaurant this summer or not.
Picciurro also says the diner’s location near the highway and a bit tucked away from busier parts of the city gives the Secret Service a sense of security in case they need to evacuate for any reason.
Multiple event spaces throughout the city will be utilized for the needs of various groups.
Before the alterations to the convention schedule due to the ongoing pandemic, a delegate party was supposed to take place at the Summerfest grounds July 12, the night before the four-day convention begins. While the delegate party was not going to be open to the general public, there was supposed to be a concert at the Summerfest grounds the same night that is open to the public. It was going to feature Santana and Earth, Wind & Fire at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater.
However, other changes to the convention are expected to come with the date change. The negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely mean that officials will “scale back the convention” in efforts to “avoid the appearance of throwing a big party in the midst of a severe economic downturn,” according to an article from Politico.