SALT LAKE CITY — Even though Salt Lake City was runner-up to host the 2012 Republican National Convention, state GOP leaders have decided not to bid again after all.
"The enthusiasm has to be tempered with the realities you're going to face," State Republican Party Chairman James Evans said, just a few months after enthusiastically announcing the party planned to pursue the 2016 convention.
Salt Lake City's decision leaves a list of cities vying to host the GOP, including Las Vegas, Kansas City, Denver, Charlotte and Phoenix. The decision is expected to be made next year.
Evans said he was more optimistic last August, when he was pushing hard for another bid after Salt Lake City lost the party's 2012 national convention that nominated Mitt Romney to Tampa.
What's changed since then, Evans said, is the likelihood Salt Lake City would have a convention hotel in place for the gathering where the next Republican presidential nominee will be formally nominated.
That's on top of other concerns, including the more than $30 million that a host city is expected to raise and the likelihood that the Republican National Committee would once again choose a swing state.
Utah's GOP national committeewoman, Enid Mickelsen, said earlier this year that having to come up with that kind of money would be "an enormous financial drain on the community."
State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who served with Mickelsen on the bid committee for the 2012 convention, agreed.
"That would be 20 to 30 times as much as we've every raised before," Weiler said. "I'm not saying we couldn't do it, but it would be astronomical for a state of this size to raise that amount of money."
Evans said that's far from the only challenge to a Salt Lake bid.
"I think that even if we got over the hurdle for raising the money, the thing that was cited last time was that we didn't have a convention hotel," Evans said. "Earlier on, it seemed there was momentum for that."
Now, Evans said it looks like there won't be the votes in the state Legislature again this coming session for the tax credits needed to fund a hotel adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention Center.
A bill creating the tax credits for a convention hotel — defined as having as many as 1,200 rooms and 100,000 square feet of convention space — failed in the final days of the 2013 Legislature.
Weiler said it was clear during the last bid that the GOP wants to bring what amounts to a "rah-rah cheerleading session" to a state that could swing either Republican or Democratic in the presidential election.
"Utah is one of the reddest of red states," Weiler said, limiting the state's chances of hosting a party convention.
That could change, Weiler said, as the national GOP considers changes to the 2016 primary process including the date and duration of the nominating conventions.
There's talk of holding the convention as early as June, instead of the usual August or even September. That would shorten the primary process and allow the nominee to focus on the general election much sooner.
"I don't know what the future is for these conventions," Weiler said. "They're really just coronation parties now."
He said he believes the length of the conventions will also be trimmed, cutting the costs involved for the host city.
Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, the city's convention and visitors' bureau, said bringing the Republicans to Utah would be a huge boost, but the decision about bidding is up to the party.
Beck said Salt Lake City could put on a strong bid.
"When you have events like this, there is the physical product, but there is also the community support. On both of those, our bid last time was very, very competitive," Beck said.
That's largely because of the city's successful hosting of the 2002 Winter Games, still viewed by many as one of the best Olympics ever. "We know how to do these kinds of events," he said.
And a political convention could attract even more attention.
"A lot more people would recognize a national political convention than would an outdoor retailer convention or even the Olympics," he said, because of the intense media focus on the presidential campaign.
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