CINCINNATI -- What's Cleveland got that Cincinnati doesn't?
A modern downtown arena with 88 luxury suites, that's what. And now it's got the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Sen. Rob Portman (R, Ohio) said Cincinnati's old, outdated US Bank Arena couldn't compete.
"I think with Cincinnati, honestly, it all came down to one thing: We didn't have the venue, the arena, up to speed for what they needed," Portman said Tuesday after the Republican National Committee's site selection committee recommended Cleveland host the party’s 2016 nominating convention.
Cincinnati went through the bidding process, too, but dropped out after getting through the first round.
"They (the RNC) needed more luxury boxes, some guarantees as to what might happen between now and 2016. It's expensive," Portman said, referring to promises to upgrade the building.
"Cleveland, on the other hand, has a more modern arena and they've kept it updated. It's where the Cavaliers play … and I think having that NBA team and having the bigger arena was the major difference."
Cincinnati's US Bank Arena, opened in 1975, has only 38 luxury boxes, can house just over 17,000 for a standard concert and hasn't undergone a major renovation since 1997.
Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, opened in 1994, has more than twice as many luxury boxes and seats 20,562 for basketball. It was completely renovated in 2005 with new seats, state-of-the-art scoreboards, video systems, sound systems, arena graphics, signage, security, locker rooms and suite upgrades.
Portman, a Cincinnati native, says he is confident the Queen City can land future conventions.
"My hometown of Cincinnati, though, also had some other great attributes, including buy-ins from everybody. It was really a great effort. It's just that we didn't have the facilities to be able to host it at this point.
"We will in the future.
"I think what this has done for Cincinnati is given us a wakeup call. We do have to modernize the facilities and be sure that we can attract big conventions like this one ...
"I think it was good process to go through and we learned a lot in Cincinnati from the process."
Portman and House Speaker John Boehner, another Cincinnati native, offered their congratulations to Cleveland and promised to help.
“This is great news for Cleveland and our entire state,” Portman stated. “It’s a unique opportunity to showcase the new Cleveland as one of America’s great cities, and to bring dollars and jobs to Ohio. I am really proud of the way the Cleveland community has come together to support the first national convention in Ohio since 1936."
Portman said he met with the 2016 Cleveland Host Committee last week. He also has been in close touch with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the RNC site selection committee.
Said Boehner: "It’s great to hear that the path to Republican victory in 2016 will start and end in Ohio. I want to congratulate all the private and public partners who worked hard to put together Cleveland’s winning bid for the Republican National Convention."
Cincinnati was one of six cities that survived the first cut in the selection process. Cincinnati dropped out when it was notified that its facilities were insufficient.
At the time, the chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, Alex M. Triantafilou, told WCPO the group didn’t make the decision until just before the scheduled announcement.
"We learned (the city wouldn’t get selected) last night and then… this morning we kind of talked it through as a group and made the decision in the middle of the day that it was best to just withdraw our bid and maybe reconsider for 2020," he said.
US Banks Arena's management group, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), issued a release that stated the site met all the initial requirements. But additional convention-specific requirements were added after the official site visit that required too much time, effort and money.
"These challenges relate to temporary modifications such as TV platforms that were a unique request that were not easily remedied," a spokesperson for the group wrote.
Overall, US Bank Arena requires millions of dollars more in improvements and upgrades than what was planned, a Host Committee member told Mayor John Cranley's office.