JEFFERSON CITY • Although city officials never publicly announced their interest, St. Louis was among a handful of cities that once considered a bid to host the 2020 Republican National Convention.
According to a letter obtained by the Post-Dispatch, former Gov. Eric Greitens told the Republican National Committee in January that the state was backing St. Louis in its pursuit of the event.
“We are pleased to support St. Louis, Missouri’s bid to host the 2020 Republican National Committee’s convention,” Greitens wrote. “My office has coordinated with Mayor Lyda Krewson and her team on this tremendous opportunity, and please know that we are in full support of their efforts.
“More importantly, if St. Louis is selected, we will do everything that we can to make sure the convention is a success in Missouri,” the former governor said.
The bid eventually was awarded to Charlotte, N.C., which hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Other cities that had pursued the 2020 convention included Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Dallas and Nashville, Tenn.
In January, officials representing those cities attended a special meeting in Washington, D.C., to learn more about the bidding process.
“I wish I could have been there in person for the Interested Cities meeting,” Greitens wrote, “but my team and I are currently leading an effort across the state to provide tax relief for 97 percent of Missouri taxpayers.”
At the time, Greitens also was dealing with the fallout from bombshell news reports two weeks earlier outlining an affair he had with his hairdresser in 2015 before he was governor.
The affair and subsequent investigations into campaign fundraising irregularities and possible impeachment led the once rising GOP star to resign on June 1.
While Greitens sounded a positive note about showcasing St. Louis to his fellow Republicans, the city did not aggressively pursue a bid.
In response to a Sunshine Law request, the city said it found no documents related to a bid package for the convention. Officials with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau did not respond to a request for information.
Krewson spokesman Koran Addo said the city had considered making a bid, but the mayor and others were concerned about tens of millions of dollars in upfront costs and other demands that would be placed on the city by the RNC.
In North Carolina, there also were concerns about splitting a Democratic-leaning community over what could become the nomination of President Donald Trump to run for a second term.
But in Charlotte, those were trumped by the possible payoff.
In 2016, Cleveland said hosting the RNC resulted in $188 million in economic benefit to the seven-county region, thanks to an estimated 48,000 additional visitors.
City bookings down
St. Louis’ convention bookings for 2018 are down about 18 percent when compared to last year, from 520,173 hotel room nights to about 427,000 this year. Room-night bookings associated with events at America’s Center downtown, a subset of the overall bookings data, are down 30 percent this year, from 327,578 in 2017 to 230,554 this year.
The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which operates as Explore St. Louis, said in a statement that the city lost several key conventions this year, including O’Reilly Auto Parts and FIRST Robotics, which had outgrown America’s Center’s facilities. “In addition, national associations removed us from consideration during the many months following the events in Ferguson, and that is having an impact on both 2018 and 2019,” the commission’s statement said.
Last year was one of the St. Louis’ region’s best convention years in a decade, with 43 events featuring 1,000 or more hotel room nights on peak, compared to a rolling average of 31 citywide events of the same size from 2010-2018, according to Explore St. Louis.
“While total numbers have declined slightly, it is a direct reflection on our competitors making impressive investments into their convention facilities that are drawing the attention of meeting and event planners,” the statement continued.
Brian Feldt of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report from St. Louis.