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Las Vegas withdraws GOP convention bid; arena, timing difficulties cited

WASHINGTON — Las Vegas’ effort to host the Republican National Convention in 2016 ended Thursday in disappointment after the city withdrew its bid rather than face rejection because of arena and scheduling difficulties.

The Las Vegas 2016 Host Committee sent the withdrawal letter to the Republican National Committee on Wednesday, the day before the party’s site selection committee could announce the latest cut among six cities still vying for the major event.

The RNC site committee said Denver, Dallas, Cleveland and Kansas City, Mo., remained in the running. Cincinnati, like Las Vegas, withdrew when it became clear it wouldn’t meet GOP requirements.

The Las Vegas Convention Center, the proposed site of the GOP event, would have trouble “clearing enough days in the June 2016 calendar” to set up for the presidential nominating party, hold the convention and then tear down the event, according to a Republican official familiar with the city’s bid. Also, it lacks VIP sky boxes required for the event.

Although Las Vegas has major GOP donors, including Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson and casino mogul Steve Wynn, the city also was having problems guaranteeing $60 million to $70 million to hold the event, the official said.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, chairman of the Las Vegas host committee, laid out the problems of lacking a proper arena and enough time to prepare for the convention in the letter sent to Enid Micklelsen, chairwoman of the RNC site selection committee.

“Las Vegas is currently unable to meet either one of these requirements,” Krolicki wrote.

He added that the city planned “to defer our bid effort to the 2020 Republican National Convention” when Las Vegas “will potentially be in a position to guarantee these infrastructure and calendar bid requirements.”

“We unwaveringly believe that Las Vegas offers the most compelling business, logistical and quality of experience reasons to be selected as the venue for a national political convention,” Krolicki added.

“After analyzing the requirements and needs of the RNC, particularly the timing of the event, it was determined our existing convention calendar filled with previously booked business made it difficult to host the event at the Las Vegas Convention Center,” said Dawn Christensen, senior communications director for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Mickelson accepted the withdrawals of Las Vegas and Cincinnati.

“While the committee understands their decision, both cities made a compelling case for 2016, and would make excellent hosts should they pursue efforts to host a future RNC convention,” she said.

After Las Vegas and Cincinnati dropped out, the nine-member site committee voted to grant formal visits to the remaining four bidders. Those will take place in June, with a final decision on a host city expected toward the end of the summer.

On May 1, MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group broke ground in Las Vegas on a new 20,000-seat, $375 million arena that is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016 and might be a better convention venue.

Despite the 2016 disappointment, Nevada Republicans were looking forward to trying again.

“I anticipate we are going to be arguing for 2020,” said U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. “This is like the Olympics. You don’t get it your first stab at it.”

Heller said he was not certain that even the MGM arena would have been big enough to satisfy the party’s needs.

Also expressing disappointment was Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who had backed the Las Vegas bid even as it was going to bring thousands of Republicans to town and make him the hometown target of political attacks.

“I always supported it coming to Las Vegas,” Reid said. “It’s good for business.” The gathering of more than 50,000 visitors was expected to generate more than $400 million in economic activity and publicity on a world scale.

Heller said he received a text on Wednesday from Krolicki indicating Las Vegas was not expected to advance as a finalist in the bidding for the convention.

Heller said date and location were issues. “In other words, we didn’t have the correct arena for it nor did we have the dates they want to hold the event.”

The Las Vegas Convention Center is one of the largest such venues in the world with 3.2 million square feet of convention space. And it’s located just off the casino-lined Strip. But it would need to have more than 70 VIP sky boxes added for the GOP event, which will be held in June or July. And it could take weeks to convert the site for the GOP convention.

“I would have loved to have seen it (in Las Vegas) in 2016,” Heller said. “It would have been a great thing for Las Vegas. Most Nevadans would like to see that kind of excitement in the city. But if it is not to be, it is not to be. Maybe we’ll get some positive results out of this. I just believe we will be more successful in 2020.”

Diana Orrock, the RNC national committeewoman from Las Vegas, said the city would have given convention delegates a great experience, from easy transportation to diverse restaurants and entertainment.

“I think from a delegate standpoint, there’s no more ideal location,” Orrock said. “It would just be a dream come true for the delegates. Nobody does conventions as well as Las Vegas.”

In contrast, the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., was a logistical nightmare with delegates having to ride for hours on buses to travel between outlying hotels and the convention site, often in tropical storm conditions.

Michael McDonald, chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, first proposed bidding for the 2016 convention in the spring of 2013. He said he was “extremely disappointed” the city fell short. He argued Nevada would be a good showcase for a Republican Party looking to reach out to Hispanics and young, vibrant voters.

“I really believe that Las Vegas was the shining light, the castle on the hill for the Republican Party,” McDonald said.

Las Vegas, which regularly hosts some of the nation’s largest conventions, was thought to be a front-runner in the bidding.

But in April, religious conservatives expressed concern about holding the convention in Las Vegas because of its sin city reputation, robust gaming industry and legal prostitution in some rural counties outside Las Vegas and Reno.

The move by Las Vegas to pull out saved the Republican National Committee from having to confront other issues that accompanied the city’s bid, such as the pushback by religious conservatives and the city’s much-debated image.

“Some of what the far right was doing resonated to a small degree,” said one Republican official who asked not to be identified. “I don’t think Vegas thought they would be open for attack like they were. They got ripped pretty hard among all the cities.”

Indeed, the conservative Family Research Council suggested it was karma that Las Vegas will not get the convention.

Council President Tony Perkins noted the withdrawal “comes only weeks after the state party ignited a partywide firestorm by stripping pro-life and pro-natural marriage language from its state platform.”

On April 17, an RNC team made an all-day visit to Las Vegas to examine the logistics of putting on the convention. The team visited the Las Vegas Convention Center and passed through McCarran International Airport, which is just a few miles from the heart of the Strip and the convention center.

At the time, the Las Vegas 2016 Host Committee thought the visit went well.

“Hopefully, they left impressed,” said Ryan Erwin, an adviser to the Las Vegas effort.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.

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