Milwaukee misses week in spotlight as Democratic convention is held remotely

Milwaukee misses week in spotlight as Democratic convention is held remotely
Milwaukee

Milwaukee is missing out on the financial boost and world attention hosting the Democratic convention would have brought with the Covid-19 pandemic meaning it will be the venue in name only.

About 50,000 visitors were expect to inject about 250 million US dollars into the economy of the key presidential battleground state of Wisconsin unexpectedly won by President Donald Trump four years ago.

But now, thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the convention is nearly entirely online, with all of the major speakers, including presumptive nominee Joe Biden, skipping the trip to Milwaukee.

It would have been the first time Milwaukee, a city of 1.6 million, hosted a presidential nominating convention.

The Wisconsin Centre, the location of a scaled down Democratic National Convention (Carrie Antifinger/AP)

Restaurant owner Omar Shaikh envisioned overflowing crowds, packed dining rooms and a big payday when the Democratic National Convention came to town.

Mr Shaikh, chairman of the Visit Milwaukee board, also saw the international attention hosting a convention would bring as a chance for the city along the shores of Lake Michigan to show the world how it has evolved from a Rust Belt manufacturing hub to a thriving, diverse, modern community.

“It would have been a game-changer,” he said.

“There would have been people everywhere ready to spend, hundreds of millions of dollars coming into our city.”

Now, with the convention that begins on Monday nearly entirely online due to the coronavirus, Mr Shaikh and Wisconsin Democrats, who a year ago triumphantly hoisted glasses of Milwaukee’s finest after winning the competition to host the convention, are crying in their beer.

“It is a gut punch,” Mr Shaikh said.

“It’s almost like you get the call you (won) the lottery, but you can’t cash the ticket in.”

Milwaukee, in many ways, had been working the past decade toward this moment.

The pandemic has largely confined Joe Biden to his home town of Wilmington, Delaware, where he will accept the nomination rather than in Milwaukee (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

An Upper Midwest city that suffered during a decline in manufacturing that began in the late 1970s, Milwaukee is often stereotyped as the home of Miller Beer, Harley-Davidson, and the ’70s sitcoms Happy Days and Laverne And Shirley.

Sports fans know it as home to basketball’s Bucks and baseball outfit the Brewers, but little else.

“You hear the phrase so often, ‘flyover country,’” said John Gurda, a historian who has written multiple books about Milwaukee.

“I think people were looking at the DNC as Milwaukee’s moment to be in the national spotlight and have some welcome attention shined on a city that is kind of in the shadows of American cities and richly deserves not to be.”

The convention was to be held in the two-year-old, 500 million US dollar Fiserv Forum, home to the Bucks.

In the years leading up to the convention, about five billion US dollars was spent on projects in and around the city centre, including luxury apartment buildings, hotels and a 25-storey office building.

A new tram began running a 2.5-mile route in 2019, going south from the city’s lakeshore to the city centre.

President Donald Trump will stage a rally in Wisconsin in an apparent attempt to highlight Mr Biden’s absence from the convention venue (Susan Walsh/AP)

“Milwaukee is, I think, exactly what you’re looking for for a 21st century city where you can live, work and play,” said Alex Lasry, senior vice president of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and one of the driving forces to land the convention.

Organisers also planned to highlight Democrats’ commitment to the city and Wisconsin, a state President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and where this year’s race may again be decided.

Meanwhile, protesters hoped to highlight deep segregation that has scarred the city for decades and led to renewed demonstrations this summer following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Protests are still expected, but, much like the convention itself, with only a fraction of the people previously anticipated.

Like the Democrats, Republicans have scrapped their plans for a traditional convention and are instead also planning a mostly virtual event.

However, to needle Mr Biden for not travelling to Milwaukee, Mr Trump planned a rally in Wisconsin just as the convention is kicking off.

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