CMP Series

All Politics Is Local

Celebrate democracy by going behind the scenes at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia — with the meeting and event professionals who organized and ran them.

Cleveland Rocks The city welcomed the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena on July 18–21.
Cleveland Rocks The city welcomed the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena on July 18–21.

Back to the Big Leagues

Hosting the Republican National Convention was about the event’s economic impact — ‘and it was also about changing the Cleveland narrative.’

When I visited Cleveland just 12 days ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC), held at Quicken Loans Arena on July 18–21, preparations were in full swing. “I think the biggest concern overall is, have you thought ahead and prepared enough so that small issues that come up don’t become big issues or big issues don’t become really big issues?” said David Gilbert, president and CEO of both Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.

While the city’s goals were aligned with those of the Republican Committee on Arrangements (COA), which facilitates the GOP’s conventions, there were some inevitable moments of friction. “The RNC, they want a great convention first and foremost to position their candidate to get elected,” Gilbert told Convene in an interview at the downtown headquarters of Destination Cleveland less than two weeks before the RNC. “We want a great convention so it maximizes the benefit for our community short and long term. Those things sometimes can clash with each other. It’s been a very delicate balance all along the way. You have this partner that you both want the same thing and a great convention, but you come at it from very different points of view. There’s continually a lot of give and take and continually a lot of negotiation. Ultimately, you want to get there to have a great convention.”

THE BID: ‘It Really Wasn’t About the Politics’

Cleveland’s bid for the 2016 RNC was a collaborative effort. “The first strategy meeting was with the city and the city leaders,” said Colette Jones, Destination Cleveland’s vice president of marketing. “This was when it was literally just a very highly conceptual idea. You probably know that Cleveland bid on the 2008 Republican National Convention. For 2016, we bid on both [the RNC and the DNC], because it really wasn’t about the politics, it was about the economic impact and it was also about changing the Cleveland narrative.”

By the beginning of 2014, Cleveland and seven other cities were in the running: Cincinnati, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. Representatives from all eight cities traveled to Washington, D.C., that February to present to the Republican National Committee’s Site Selection Committee. A month later, representatives from the selection committee visited Cleveland, and the city moved to the next round of the competition. “It definitely helped that there’d been so much investment in the city, and it also helped that we already had amazing attractions,” Jones said. “Having the type of art museum that we do, having the type of orchestra that we do, and of course having the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and being able to take people to see those things was a definite point in our favor.”

So was Cleveland’s can-do attitude. “There are a lot of cities across the country that are known as convention cities,” said Kirsten Kukowski, the COA’s communications director. “Cleveland came to us and said, ‘We want to be a convention city. We want to put time, effort, and resources into building this city into a convention city, and we want you to help us with that.’ They were very excited about us being here and doing that, so we said, ‘You know what? It’s nice to have that. It’s nice to have that partnership.’ That’s how this all started. They had a nice, beautiful new convention center. They had a lot of hotels that were in and around downtown, but also new ones that were going to be built, and it was just a good fit.”

In March 2014, Cleveland moved to the next level of the competition. There was a second site visit in June, and in July the GOP declared Cleveland the winner. That meant the real work was just beginning.

Market Rate Destination Cleveland created several marketing programs that focused on unique attributes of the city
Market Rate Destination Cleveland created several marketing programs that focused on unique attributes of the city

THE FOOTPRINT: ‘Everyone Seems to Do Well’

“It’s estimated that there are about 50,000 people coming in officially related to the convention,” Gilbert said. “That doesn’t include people who may be political tourists that stay an hour away but just come downtown to hang out every day, or protesters who come into town.”

One major challenge for Cleveland was finding beds for all those heads. “I was initially involved in all the commitment letters for the hotels, pulling all those people together, convincing people why it was great for the city,” said Michael Burns, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Destination Cleveland. “You’re dealing with a lot of hotels that are great partners, but they don’t have meeting space.”

For Burns, one of the most interesting aspects of coordinating the RNC was reaching out to limited-service properties. “Historically, they do great at the leisure side of things, but that’s all push marketing. In my world of convention sales, they’re hotels that you probably aren’t talking to very often,” Burns said. “They’re great partners, and if we do our job and compress downtown and some of the bigger hotels in the suburbs — you know, rising tides, everyone seems to do well. It’s never that somebody had a great marketing idea for a very specific property that’s a limited-service hotel. A lot of other things have to happen, right? That’s why you group up on your business and create demand in some other areas.”

Leading up to the convention, the renovation and reopening of Cleveland’s Public Square was fast-tracked, while the new, 600-room Cleveland Hilton Downtown opened ahead of schedule. This past June, the city cut the ribbon on a $36-million renovation of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Improvements were made
both inside and outside the terminal, a parking canopy was installed, and a new security checkpoint was opened.

Cleveland took things one step further by customizing the airport-arrival experience for RNC delegates. “We’re putting entertainment into the baggage-claim area and the arrival experience, because you spend some time down there,” Burns said. “They’ll be welcomed into the concourse area and then baggage claim. We’ll give them a bottle of water. Hopefully, it’s a nice 80-degree day. If they are going about town, they can take [RTA Rapid Transit] right into downtown. We’ll have people at the Rapid station here in Terminal Tower area. They can walk from most of the hotels.”

Destination Cleveland coordinated with airport staff and transportation providers across the city to make sure the airport-to-hotel experience was as seamless as possible. “We know that [the convention] will put a lot of pressure on cabs,” Burns said. “You know, we’re a really walkable city, very close to the airport, and a lot of our air traffic originates out of Cleveland. This kind of inverts everything, so it’s having a plan together about how do you hold buses, where do you move Uber to, limos, etc. You just all the sudden can’t randomly have 100 limos coming through airport holding.”

Open Seats  Construction crews removed several rows of seating to make more room for delegates.
Open Seats Construction crews removed several rows of seating to make more room for delegates.

THE BUILD-OUT: It Is Putting in the Piping’

Hundreds of RNC staff, third-party suppliers, and other stakeholders temporarily relocated to Cleveland in the months leading up to the convention. The COA set up an office in downtown Cleveland at the beginning of 2016 to begin on-site preparations.

“Our job here is more infrastructure,” Kukowski said when I spoke to her in Cleveland before the RNC. “It is putting in the piping so that whoever it is that our nominee is, we put on a show. We look at it a little more procedurally, infrastructure-wise. We’re steering a huge ship and getting everybody on the same page while there are all these moving parts. You have a team in New York with the campaign. You have our team that’s been here [in Cleveland] for a long time. Then you also have the Republican National Committee in D.C., and everyone’s going to be here starting roughly this weekend for just about two weeks.

“Otherwise, it’s getting the program together, working on some announcements and session times, etc. Just getting those final pieces in together,” Kukowski said. “There’s a process that is always a struggle in terms of who has the information that’s going to be given on that stage and at what time do we start embargoing that for delivery, but to give people enough preparation time to be able to report on it the way that we need them to report on it, so those are conversations that are happening right now.”

Because the COA plays a pivotal role in the media blitz that accompanies a major political convention — during the RNC, some 15,000 members of the press descended on Cleveland — Kukowski’s team created Media Row, a dedicated space for hundreds of TV, radio, and social-media news outlets to broadcast live updates. A lot of thought and planning went into the design of Media Row, on the second floor of a parking garage adjacent to Quicken Loans Arena. The space was built out to hold hundreds of booths and thousands of yards of AV cable, and even featured walls and carpeting.

Destination Cleveland created its own strictly apolitical social-media command center across the street from the arena, where volunteers were on hand to respond to everything from tweets about restrooms at the arena that needed to be cleaned, to delegates’ and visitors’ Facebook questions about getting around the city.

THE BROADCAST: ‘The People That Worked on the Oscars’

By July 6, when I visited, several rows of chairs had already been removed from the floor at Quicken Loans Arena to create extra space for delegates to mingle. The main-stage set would feature both concave and convex screens, utilizing 636 separate LED panels, for a total of some 10 million pixels. During my walkthrough, workers were in the process of putting together the largest of these screens — affectionately dubbed “the Humongatron.” It may have been a concept ahead of its time: The Humongatron faded to black for several minutes during a speech by Eric Trump on the third night of the convention, causing a certain degree of snickering on social media.

Production of the RNC sessions that aired on network television was handled by a special group made up of TV- and film-industry veterans. “The team of people that comes to work on this convention are the people that worked on the Oscars, the Grammy Awards, or the Emmy Awards,” said Phil Alongi, executive producer of both the 2012 and 2016 Republican conventions. “They work in theater. They have news backgrounds. These are folks that are accustomed to deadlines and reacting to things. The lead graphic artist is a former network-news graphic artist, Emmy Award winner, etc…. He had the evening news and knew he had to get something ready in an hour. On the other end, we have a very high-end, Hollywood-type producer who knows how to do some really interesting screen effects.”

Alongi’s crack team was still getting up to speed on July 6. “Folks came in late yesterday,” Alongi said. “Today was like I described at my morning meeting — it’s like the first day of school. Everyone needed to know who to hook up with, because there are quick moves being delivered. They needed to know where is the room they are setting out, where are the trucks going, etc. It was a really hectic morning, but it was expected. Fortunately, so far so good.”

Shop Around the Corner The Cleveland Arcade mall is one of many distinctive downtown attractions that helped Cleveland stand out from seven other cities vying to host the 2016 RNC.
Shop Around the Corner The Cleveland Arcade mall is one of many distinctive downtown attractions that helped Cleveland stand out from seven other cities vying to host the 2016 RNC.

THE VERDICT: ‘It Could Not Have Gone Better’

Was hosting the RNC a win for Cleveland? Most definitely. “It could not have gone better for our community in terms of all the things that we were hoping to get out of hosting the convention,” Gilbert said during a follow-up interview in September. “I’ve been fortunate to be around civic work in Cleveland for about 25 years, and I believe nothing I’ve seen has come close to an absolute, all-out, coordinated community effort. There was such incredible cooperation amongst and between the civic and public and private sectors. Clevelanders, almost to a person, took great pride in the fact that we were hosting this convention.”

The mood in the Destination Cleveland office was jubilant in the immediate aftermath of the convention. “Everyone took such incredible pride in how they approached the preparation, and such pride in the fact we were hosting it,” Gilbert said. “Our office happens to be almost right at ground zero of where all the activity was. There was such a cool, wacky atmosphere right outside our door almost every hour of every day, and that just added to the excitement of it.”

Gilbert sang the praises of his team’s social-media command center. “It was such a neat atmosphere, because it really was 24/7 activity,” he said. “We had probably 30 different host-committee staff, our staff, and consultants that we hired to be part of it, staying downtown. Anytime you would walk in, day or night, there was activity going on — it was really pure adrenaline for days.”

One of Cleveland’s biggest reasons for bidding on the 2016 RNC — as well as the 2016 DNC — was to get back into the ring as a major convention city. “We realized Cleveland has suffered for a long time from image issues,” Gilbert said. “Our research shows us that this is really beginning to change, but to hear it firsthand from so many people was really amazing. Whether they were delegates, or law enforcement, or media, they were absolutely effusive in their praise of Cleveland. People said they had no idea how beautiful, how clean, and how friendly the city is, and how well-run they believed the convention was.”

The city is already seeing an uptick in business. “Three months after, we’re getting sent RFPs for meetings and conventions that we never otherwise would have been sent,” Gilbert said. “Oftentimes they’ll mention the RNC. When we’re chasing a major sporting event, it’s Wow, you guys really did a great job with the RNC. Ultimately, it’s a question of whether hosting the convention, in and of itself, directly leads to new business for Cleveland. The jury is certainly still out, but we know already it’s having the effect of making us more relevant and being part of an important conversation that we wouldn’t have otherwise been having.”

— Kate Mulcrone

 

Getting the Party Started Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee Chair Edward Rendell with DNC delegates at one of the city’s welcome receptions.
Getting the Party Started Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee Chair Edward Rendell with DNC delegates at one of the city’s welcome receptions.

The Democratic Process

From PolitiFest to the Home Away From Home lounge, the entire City of Brotherly Love played a role in welcoming the 2016 Democratic National Convention. 

The great irony of a national political convention is that it’s watched live by millions of people across the country and around the world, endlessly scrutinized on political talks shows and op-ed pages, dissected on websites and social media — and no one has any idea what’s really going on behind the scenes. In reality, it takes countless event professionals at every level working months in advance to set the stage, then around the clock on site to present an experience that looks effortless.

When the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) hosted Convene as part of a press trip less than a week before the city welcomed the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) on July 25–28, the focus was on those professionals — from the CVB and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, to hotels and restaurants, to caterers and party planners. We talked to all of them about their role in preparing Philly for the DNC. Here are some conversations from our campaign reporter’s notebook, edited for length and clarity.

Showtime PoliticalFest was held at seven different sites, including a main stage at the National Constitution Center.
Showtime PoliticalFest was held at seven different sites, including a main stage at the National Constitution Center.

THE CVB: ‘That’s PR That You Couldn’t Buy’

In September 2015, Philadelphia hosted a visit from Pope Francis in conjunction with the World Meeting of Families — a huge event that at its peak drew an estimated 1 million people to the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway for a Papal Mass. PHLCVB President and CEO Julie Coker Graham credits the visit — along with hosting the Republican National Convention (RNC) not all that long ago, in 2000 — with helping the destination take the 2016 DNC in stride.

IT STARTED REALLY for us in March of 2014. The RFP has to be responded to by the city. We had received both the RNC and the DNC, and the mayor’s office elected to respond to the DNC. Then in August, site inspections were held, so at that point it was down to six cities: Birmingham, Cleveland, Columbus, New York, Phoenix, and us. They arrived here Tuesday at like 11 a.m. and they left like Thursday morning, so we really didn’t have a lot of time to showcase the city. And they were coming to us from New York, so needless to say you know how we feel about New York — a little competitive.

We had this plan that we wanted to actually go up to New York and as soon as [members of the DNC’s site-selection committee] got on the bus it was going to become Philadelphia. We were going to have the mayor on the bus, and he was going to ride with them down to Philadelphia and tell them all these great stories, and we would have these videos on the bus of all these pictures and images. Well, New York said no, their site [visit] wasn’t over until they came to our city. So the mayor was not able to get on the bus. He actually waited until they crossed the line in Pennsylvania. He jumped on the bus, and he rode them into the city and told them how excited we were.

We had them pull up in front of The Warwick Hotel [Rittenhouse Square], and it was set up like paparazzi. We had a huge contingency of our hospitality staff out, so there were some folks that were in housekeeping uniforms, bellmen, guest services, and they were cheering with signs. They got off the bus, and then we started our tour from there. Obviously, we just showed them the major points, so they saw Wells Fargo [Center] and they saw the Pennsylvania Convention Center. We did cheesesteaks at Pat’s and Geno’s. Hotel Monaco has a wonderful rooftop deck, so they got to see great shots of the city — the Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute. We did what Philadelphia does best; we showed them our neighborhoods.

We learned later in the year that it was down to three — us, New York, and Columbus. And then they finally called us in February of 2015. The way it happens is, they send you an email with the agreement and you have to get all these signatures. Then the chairwoman [of the Democratic National Committee], Debbie Wasserman Schultz, called the mayor’s office and we were all gathered around a table and that was it. We had won the bid for the DNC for 2016.

IT’S A CONVENTION that’s 15,000 rooms on peak nights, 35,000 to 50,000 attendees. Certainly under normal circumstances you would have more than 18 months to book a convention of that size. But it worked out great. We worked with some of our groups that were surrounding those dates, that were coming in immediately after the DNC and prior, on move-in and move-out schedules, so that we would have enough time to do everything that we needed to do.

One of the things that was set up was with all of the neighborhood associations in and around Center City. There were town-hall meetings that were set up to keep them engaged, to let them know what events were going to be free, how they could get involved, encouraging them to do volunteer activities. And then we worked with the local restaurants and businesses as well, so that we could make sure that when all of the delegates head to Wells Fargo, they would have offerings that would keep their business whole. One of the things we learned with the [2000] RNC is that they were expecting this mad rush at dinner. Well, if you thought about it, you weren’t going to get a big dinner rush, because they all go to Wells Fargo [in South Philadelphia]. So we encouraged them to, one, if you weren’t open for breakfast, you should open for breakfast; two, you should consider lunch specials, because after they get their credentials during the day, all of the delegates and their families are free.

We’re going to do watch parties all around town, so we’re encouraging all of the restaurants and all of the hotels to put up big-screen TVs in the lobby. It’s a select few who are going to be credentialed to go to Wells Fargo, so you want everyone else to be a part of it. But more importantly, we really stressed that we wanted Philadelphians to be a part of it. We didn’t want them to think they had to leave town like they did with World Meeting of Families. There’s not going to be eight-foot-high fences along the streets where folks can’t move and get through traffic.

We did 92 hotel preconvention meetings. We really educated our hotels on what to expect — arrival and departure patterns, and things that would make that easier. If you have any folks on your team that speak multiple languages, make sure your guests know who they are. Have cash on hand, because these are delegates and they come on their own dime, so they’re paying their own way and a lot of them will pay their bill in cash.

TO HAVE NATIONAL and international media reporting live from Philadelphia from Sunday through Friday, that’s PR that you couldn’t buy. For example, with World Meeting of Families, we had about 7,000 media here, and the DNC is expecting 15,000 media here. The DNC and the RNC have more media coverage than you have at the Olympics. All of those local stories will talk about Philadelphia, and of course all of the things that we normally see — the Liberty Bell, the Constitution Center — they’ll all come through. We’re also looking for more human-interest stories, so just the spirit of Philadelphia. Those little neighborhood restaurants that wouldn’t necessarily have any play normally. That it’s such a walkable city, how easy it is to get around.

We’re hoping that they will say, “If they can handle the DNC, I’m sure they can handle my convention.” We expect business from that.

Site to See The welcome party at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts took full advantage of the building’s soaring atrium.
Site to See The welcome party at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts took full advantage of the building’s soaring atrium.

THE CONVENTION CENTER: ‘It Was Like a Puzzle’

The Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC) was one of seven sites throughout the city that hosted PoliticalFest, which the Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee described as a nonpartisan festival “celebrating political history, government, and the road to the White House.” The PCC also was the site of a variety of DNC caucus and council meetings — even as it handled move-in for the American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s (AACC) 20,000-attendee 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo, held on July 31–Aug. 4. During the press trip, Convene participated in a group interview with John McNichol, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority; Lorenz Hassenstein, the PCC’s general manager; Stephanie Boyd, director of sales and marketing; and Mary Ann Torres, CMP, director of events.

TORRESI do love a challenge. This will put me to the test, I’m sure, but I love it. It actually started with DIA [the Drug Information Association’s annual meeting, on June 26–30]. Then we went into AME [the African Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference, on July 6–13], which was 20,000 people. We also did American Podiatric [Medical Association Annual Scientific Meeting, on July 14–17]. We also had AVID [Advancement Via Individual Determination’s Summer Institute, on July 18–20]. There were several different events, so it was a very staggered move-in for DNC. It was like a puzzle for our team. Some of those clients were not very happy at first when they were asked to move some of their meetings around to accommodate DNC, but we are very fortunate to have the event managers that we do. They created this relationship with their clients. Their clients trusted that event manager, and left here very, very happy.

MCNICHOLWe actually moved Clinical Chemistry. Clinical  Chemistry was originally this coming week. We had to move them about a full, solid week off their schedule. There’s a lot of pain in that process.

TORRESOperationally, we’re very fortunate that we have such a professional and organized client and trade show coming in on the heels of DNC. She had the specs to me June 10, which allowed me to pre-plan and organize [AACC’s move-in] in a way beneficial to all parties.

HASSENSTEINWhen you’re dealing with a convention that comes through, there’s really one client and they’re using the building. When you’re dealing with an event like the World Meeting of Families or the DNC, the client has a master agreement that’s done with the city. It involves a number of other buildings, and it’s a slightly more complex model. The financials are handled differently. All the way down to how Mary Ann aggregates and works and communicates both here internally within the company and then also externally with the DNC’s support groups and the contractors — that makes it a heavier lift, a little more complex, and the decision-making process is more elaborate and sophisticated. Of course, then you have the whole issue around politics, where a lot of decisions come later just because of when candidates start to become more aware of what’s going on and what they want in certain places.

MCNICHOLLet’s talk about the Home Away From Home [lounge], as an example of something that had never been done before. The concept being that at past conventions, the outlying hotel guests are inevitably disappointed with the experience. It’s like, “I was on the bus the whole time, we were late to the center, or we were late to this or that.” In recognition of that, and understanding that the way it’s going to work is most of the delegates will be [at the PCC] during the day to do business with the caucuses and what have you, and then they’ll have that time in between [going to the Wells Fargo Center for the evening program]— now, do I want to get on a bus and go back to Valley Forge and freshen up in my hotel? Probably not. We’re giving them that comfortable space to recognize that if they stay here, they can shop in Philly, they can eat, they can spend money in Philadelphia, which is all part of the capture of the economic impact for
the city.

HASSENSTEINThinking back to how the political conventions have been run over the last 20 years, they’re more elaborate now than they were. The social media around it, the functionality of it, how they try and incorporate other participants, whether they’re sponsors or different groups — it’s a much bigger thing today than it was. We’ve invested $5 million in not only the wireless but the [IT] backbone and the infrastructure, and we still have some investing to do.

TORRESOur biggest challenge thus far, believe it or not, is ADA ramps, because every caucus and council meeting has to have an ADA ramp. We have one in house and we have two wheelchair lifts. We’re changing rooms very quickly — 118ABC splits into 118A, B, and C. I tried to push them to use the lifts because of the space in the room and the timing. I was told that wheelchair lifts now are, they don’t like the look of them, so all [rooms] have to have ramps. I had about three or four meetings with Hargrove, their general service contractor. We’ll provide the one ADA ramp for the [DNC’s] Disability Council, but for all the other caucus and council meetings, Hargrove has to build the ADA ramps. Sometimes we only have two hours between caucus meetings, where we have to strike the ADA riser and then put it back.

HASSENSTEINAnother nuance around managing through this event is the duration — how long every day the building’s going to be up and running. For most events we have coming through here, we’re here at 6, 7 in the morning and going. Then by 6, 7 in the evening, we’re pretty much wrapping up. But I think [for the DNC] we’re going to be open till 2, 3 in the morning in certain parts of the building.

THE MAIN STAGE: ‘This Is Like a Thank-You’

The Wells Fargo Center, a 21,000-seat sports arena in South Philadelphia, served as the main stage for the DNC, including hosting 15,000 to 20,000 members of the media in three huge air-conditioned, glass-walled tents set up in the parking lot. The center was closed to the press during our visit because move-in and setup were still underway, but Toria Boldware, a hall management associate for the DNC, led us on a tour outside. Based in Charlotte, she had been stationed in Philadelphia since March to help prepare for the convention.

THERE IS SOMEBODY in every single nook and cranny of this place. Once you put pipe and drape around something, it classes it up a lot. Tomorrow morning there’s an open house focusing on [local] youth and senior-citizen-groups. It’s a way to thank the city and let them see what we’ve been up to. We’ve taken over the city. This is like a thank-you: Thank you for letting us come.”

THE HOST COMMITTEE: ‘The Diversity of Our Nation’

The Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee staged a variety of activities during the DNC, including Donkeys Around Town, an installation of 57 fiberglass donkeys at locations throughout the city from July 1–Sept. 9 — each one painted by a local artist to represent a state or territory delegation at the DNC. But the Host Committee’s biggest program was PoliticalFest, running from July 22–27, and offering exhibits, games, speeches, and other events dedicated to the American political process. PoliticalFest was headquartered at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall, where during our visit Host Committee Chair Edward Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia and former governor of Pennsylvania, officially announced the program and led a media tour.

THESE EXHIBITS EMBODY the Host Committee’s commitment to inclusion throughout its convention-planning efforts and reflect the diversity of our nation and its history. We are excited to provide this unique opportunity for residents and convention visitors to better understand our democratic process, and PoliticalFest will do just that.

Animalia Donkeys Around Town placed 57 donkeys throughout the city — each one painted by a local artist to reflect a state or territory delegation at the DNC.
Animalia Donkeys Around Town placed 57 donkeys throughout the city — each one painted by a local artist to reflect a state or territory delegation at the DNC.

THE WELCOME PARTY: ‘The Coolest Big-City Small Town’

There were two welcome receptions for DNC delegates and guests — one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the other at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. At the Kimmel Center, we got a tour from Mazda Miles, CMM, president and chief event strategist for Philly-based Perfection Events, which produced that reception. The event took full advantage of the building’s soaring atrium and assortment of performance spaces to offer a dazzling array of local singers and musicians.

MY CONCEPT is, we are giving people we are welcoming to Philadelphia an understanding of the city as an epicenter of art and culture, authenticity, and great food. As you explore the space, you will discover Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the coolest big-city small town. It’s not six degrees [of separation], it’s two. Something we had to solve for is, how do you strike the perfect balance between “what happens here is here” and people can still have conversations without hearing [sound] bleed?

THE SPECIAL-EVENT VENUE: ‘A Little Vision and Money’

The DNC was citywide in every sense of the term — maxing out the PCC and the Wells Fargo Center, and spilling across restaurants, museums, and other special-event venues. One of the most unique was 801 Market Street, which occupies the first floor of the former Strawbridge & Clothier chain’s historic flagship store, and during the DNC hosted a party for an unnamed client of Garces Events. Vicki Pohl, director of catering sales for Garces, helped lead a tour of the sprawling space, which can accommodate up to 2,400 people and features a mezzanine level that was part of the department store’s food court.

THE OTHER FLOORS up above have been turned into offices. This space has been empty for about seven years now, so we have been lucky enough to get our catering contract to do events in this space. The capacity here is large. There aren’t many places in the city that you can have very, very large numbers without it being a union building. This is a very enticing place for people to come. There’s not a whole lot you have to do with it. They painted all the walls white or ivory, just to keep it pretty neutral, so people really can come in and do whatever they like. There’s lots of loading down here, so we can bring everything in very easily. The one downside is there are no restrooms in this facility, so we have to bring in restroom trailers for the guests to use whenever there’s entertaining here. But it’s a fabulous space, and with just a little vision and money you can do a lot.

THERE’S A BALCONY that, back when Strawbridge’s was in operation, the upstairs was also seating for their café. It looked down upon the rest of this. For events and things, it acts as kind of a stage for entertainers or speeches or anything like that. We have a great relationship with a lot of the people on the DNC Host Committee, and so we took them on tours of all of the facilities where [Garces] is allowed to cater to give them an idea of the breadth of what we can offer to members of the DNC for entertaining. [The client is] bringing in a decorator. They are creating a fabulous entranceway for their guests and a pretty intense check-in area. They will have various things going on. I can’t get too specific about it, because they’re very secretive about their events. The theme is just America — celebrating America.

— Christopher Durso

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Earn one hour of CEU credit. Once you’ve finished reading this article, read the following material:

 An explanation of the organizational structure of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee.

 An explanation of the organizational structure of the Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee.

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Kate Mulcrone

Kate Mulcrone is digital editor of Convene.