‘We Blew It’: Business Community Reacts to Council Forgoing RNC Bid

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(From left) Richard Perez, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, and Ramiro Cavazos, San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, remained silent regarding the Republican National Convention.

Scott Ball and Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

(From left) Richard Perez, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, and Ramiro Cavazos, San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, remained silent regarding the Republican National Convention.

A day after San Antonio City officials chose not to bid to host the 2020 Republican National Convention, the presidents of two local chambers of commerce cited political strategy and economics as the respective reasons they remained silent about the contentious issue.

The head of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce blamed lobbying fatigue, saying his organization chose to “keep our powder dry” for future political fights. The leader of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said his group was unconvinced that promised economic gains outweighed the potential costs of hosting the Republican gathering.

“My reading of the tea leaves [at the time] was such that I didn’t think the council would be embracing this opportunity,” said Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “That means we’d have to push them really hard to embrace it. My recommendation to the leadership here at the chamber was that we should keep our powder dry, and that’s what we did.”

Other business community leaders, however, lamented what they called a missed opportunity and criticized City Council for holding its discussions behind closed doors.

“We’ve got so much going for this city,” said Henry Feldman, who owns a La Quinta Inn & Suites Convention Center in northwest San Antonio. He said that hosting a national political convention would have been an even bigger catch for the city’s hotel industry than the recent NCAA Final Four basketball tournament.

“This was a great opportunity to show it off and we blew it,” Feldman said.

Perez, whose chamber represents the greater San Antonio area, said his board of directors accepted his recommendation that they not pressure City officials to submit a convention hosting bid. The decision, he said, was tactical.

He was among several civic and business leaders in a closed meeting March 23 when three representatives of the Republican National Committee, including Massachusetts National Committeeman Ron Kaufman, made a presentation on the bid process. They informed participants that San Antonio met minimum requirements to bid given considerations such as its numbers of hotel rooms, airport capacity, and having an appropriate convention venue.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg led the meeting, which included former Mayor Phil Hardberger, directors of several other business associations, but none of the other City Council members.

Perez said that in the month and a half before the March 23 meeting, his chamber had lobbied City officials aggressively on another issue – a proposed labor peace agreement that would have allowed unionizing efforts among concessionaires at the San Antonio International Airport.

So when Perez observed what he considered a tepid reception to the RNC’s convention presentation, he decided the chamber shouldn’t fight to submit a bid.

Perez added that he has no doubt of what the city stood to gain by hosting the convention, but he believes that taking a bye on the RNC bid doesn’t preclude bidding to host future political conventions.

“I think there has to be a coordination between the political will [on the Council] and the business community,” he said. “We should have started there as opposed to getting thrust into it.”

Consideration of a bid for the convention appeared dead after the March meeting. Only after President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign manager, Brad Parscale – who has strong ties to San Antonio – launched a Twitter invective against Nirenberg did business community leaders begin to press the City Council to take action.

Four local business leaders vowed on Tuesday to raise $60 million to $65 million to launch a bipartisan bid to host the convention. Historically, the host city and county have each contributed between $2 million and $3 million to the overall cost of the convention, they wrote in a letter to Council. The rest of the funds, they said, would have come from the private sector.

In a separate letter of support for a convention bid, a coalition of 14 business and industry leaders urged City Council to make a good-faith effort to host the GOP gathering.

Several business community leaders who spoke to the Rivard Report on Friday said they were disappointed that the San Antonio and the Hispanic chambers did not wield their outsize influence to sway the Council toward at least submitting a bid.

But officials at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce were not convinced about the touted economic benefits, CEO and President Ramiro Cavazos said.

“We did not stay neutral so much as we felt it was not up to us to make a recommendation,” Cavazos said. “Although it was clear the numbers didn’t work.”

Cavazos, who previously directed the City’s economic development department, said a three- or four-day convention would not deliver the long-term economic benefits to justify committing public funds to it.

After an hours-long closed executive session Thursday afternoon, Nirenberg announced the City would not submit a bid to host the convention. The Council weighed the financial package it would take and declined to go forward with a bid, which would have required a public discussion and vote later.

Nirenberg said that because the discussion involved a competitive economic development opportunity, it met one of the exceptions under the Texas Open Meetings Act. Thus, he said, the Council considered the item in closed executive session.

Cavazos, who was involved in the private negotiations to bring a Toyota manufacturing plant to San Antonio, said the Council’s handling of the RNC bid deliberation was “done the right way.”

But Cristina Aldrete, executive vice president of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said she was disappointed the Council did not allow the merits of a bid to be discussed and debated in a public forum.

“To not even have that chance is very regrettable,” she said.

District 9 candidate Marco Barros.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Marco Barros, who heads the San Antonio Tourism Council.

Marco Barros, who heads the San Antonio Tourism Council, said Friday that “disappointment” was a word he’d heard repeatedly since the announcement, including at the Tricentennial Founders’ Day gala Thursday night as San Antonio celebrated its 300th anniversary.

Barros said misinformation has been spread about the effect that hosting the Republican convention would have on Mexican tourism in South Texas. Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and other area leaders have said that cities such as McAllen have experienced radical decline in sales tax revenue – a trend Treviño blamed on opposition to Trump’s proposed border wall, his threat to end the North American Free Trade Agreement, and his immigration policies.

But Barros disagreed, attributing the decline in tourism dollars from Mexico to a devalued Mexican peso, which fell in 2017 but is on a gradual uptick.

“I think a lot of the decisions made were very irrational and without facts,” Barros said. “They were political issues.”

Justin Holley, who sits on the board of the San Antonio tourism organization Visit San Antonio, said the city missed out on rich opportunity to draw revenue for the local hotel industry during the typically off-month of July, and during a year in which conventions are on the decline nationally.

“This was $200 million in economic impact, and we have [no conventions] on the books” during that time, Holley said, who owns seven hotels in San Antonio and in south central Texas.

31 thoughts on “‘We Blew It’: Business Community Reacts to Council Forgoing RNC Bid

  1. Why do these people keep protraying this as the city turning down to host when it is simply deciding not to BID for the convention. Even if the city bids, there’s no guarantee they land it.

    It’s amazing how ignorant sone people can be towards this whole thing.

  2. If the business community really wants it they should pay for it not the city, Businesses especially the chamber of commerce associated ones will make huge profits from it not the city. All the city gets are the headaches and bills for the taxpayers

  3. To my hometown and as a native of this supposedly ‘progressive’ city, a ‘city on the rise’ with ‘limitless opportunity’ that is ‘real and ready’ according to a video currently running in the baggage claim area of the San Antonio International Airport — yes, you blew it.

  4. “This is no time to go wobbly.” Margaret Thatcher. The City made the right choice. Dont go wobbly just because Trump’s director of right wing outrage doesn’t like it.

  5. A key word in the article emphasized in capitals: We met MINIMUM requirements for hosting the convention. I will continue to maintain that all of this hullabaloo has been about saving the reputation of the RNC because no one except Charlotte wants to host their convention. Do these local businessmen who are strongly objecting really think that we would have won the bid when competing against Charlotte–home of 7 Fortune 500 company headquarters (including Bank of America) and another 10 Fortune 1000 companies, a major airline (American) hub, etc.? We were being used by Parscale and the RNC and these local businessmen who are complaining are either posturing or are not smart enough to realize that.

  6. I understand the hesitation to host the RNC. I am for placing a bid because any chance we get to show off our wonderful city should be taken.

    I love this city, but we need to understand what is happening to it. Just like every other city with ‘progressive’ leadership, our city leaders are making more and more decisions for us without including us. Whether you believe in placing bid or not, does it not bother you that the mayor made the decision to not place bid because of ‘his’ politics? I only know now about the mayor blowing off bid because of the tweets from RNC.

    For the opponents of the RNC bid, I understand that you are happy that the mayor didn’t want to submit bid. But what else are our leaders deciding for all of us due to their personal politics? What other decisions are thy making for us without alerting the public?

    Texas is thriving because of less regulation, individual rights, and general right leaning economic policies. I do not like our supposedly ‘non partisan’ city council making choices for me based on their personal beliefs.

    It’s easy to make the decision as to whether our city should move in any direction, even a controversial direction, put it to a vote.

    Happy Cinco

    • Meh, I think the council did business here a favor by avoiding the potential riots that could have taken place.

    • Texas is also one of the lowest in education, healthcare, and is on the verge of severe water issues due to poor environmental management as well.. The business sector isn’t flourishing due to lack of regulation solely either. Perhaps it sounds good to say it outloud but we certainly have alot is BIG issues in our state due to the way our political alliances have run us.

  7. Okay you darling friends, Red, John, Eddie and Dennis, now that you don’t have to raise $60-65 million for the one-off Republican National Convention, how about raising it for something that is here to stay: the San Antonio Symphony. The Symphony is heading into its 80th year; it is the pedestal which holds up the table on which sit all other performing arts organizations; it is, to quote an arts director in this same space earlier this year, the aquifer under all the other City organizations; it is a box that has to be checked off when the Economic Development people sell our City; it is the very heartbeat of music education of our young; it is something that the City “must have” but which some of you civic- minded moguls disdain to support. You want a City you can point to with pride, that you can tout as a world-class City? Stabilize the Symphony! xxoo

  8. Racist, sexist, Confederacy-sins honoring, anything-for-a-buck Charlotte NC is the only town to offer a bid.

  9. The thing that all these “business community” leaders (i.e. special interests) keep ignoring is that no one has banned the Republican Convention or said San Antonio cannot host it. The City has merely declined to spend taxpayer dollars on a partisan venture by a private entity – as they well should.
    All these “business leaders” can still offer to have the GOP coronation here. They can also offer to foot the *entire* bill themselves – as they well should.
    San Antonio officials, by declining to spend taxpayer money to help host a private event that could cause massive disruption and whose economic benefit would be marginal and temporary at best, didn’t blow anything. In fact, given our history of throwing incentives at everyone from the Spurs to multiple private corporations, for once I think our elected leaders *didn’t* blow it.
    Not hosting the GOP convention is not suddenly going to kill (or even slightly ail) San Antonio’s image or economy, and any claims that it will are asinine and self-serving.

  10. I don’t like bullies! Parscale and company were simply trying to bully the city into bidding. I applaud our city leaders for turning a cold shoulder!

    • It’s probably more likely the city was “bullied” into NOT pursuing a bid. It’s reasonable to consider that the Julian Castro, who has stated that he wants to throw his hat in the ring in 2020, would be embarrassed if his hometown was under consideration for a 2020 RNC convention. It’s likely that his camp, which assuredly has many embedded supporters at city hall, pressured the city to say no.

  11. Preventing our city from becoming immersed in tiki torches and tear gas for five days is no mistake. I’m sorry that a few rooms at La Quinta might go empty, but the current administration’s racist policies and rhetoric are hurting most people in San Antonio. From the border wall to ending NAFTA, breaking up immigrant families, ending DACA, attacking Muslims, attacking the press, slandering African countries, embracing neo-Nazi’s, not to mention attacking the rights of transgender people like me, this president represents a low-point in our history and seeks to prevent America from becoming more diverse like San Antonio. That is why only one city in the country dared to bid on this catastrophe-in-the-making, and that is NOT our mayor’s our city council’s fault. We cannot separate politics from this decision because the president and GOP leadership have made it impossible.

      • Hey RS…. did trans “Ashley” strike a nerve of fear in you?…would’nt want to question your manhood or anything….

  12. It will be interesting to watch the city’s so-called leaders try to say that it’s only a coincidence, but it will eventual come out that they were pressured not to bid as even the prospect of hosting the RNC in San Antonio would be viewed as a slight to Julian Castro who is planning to launch his candidacy for President in short order. As evidence to that, an employee of Dell (the PC company) shared with me an internal Email from “Dell Technologies Political Action Committee” that Dell employees in Texas received this week.

    “Special Event
    Secretary Julian Castro Round Rock Town Hall. May 14
    …he is expected to make a major announcement in the coming months about the 2020 presidential campaign.”

    Castro’s camp would not want to have to try to explain to their own party why the opposing party is considering holding their convention in his hometown.

  13. Some of us are incredibly disappointed with the behavior of members of the Republican Party and do not want these depraved and morally bankrupt individuals to invade our beautiful city. Please keep them away.

  14. So many on the City Council are openly racist (politically correct racist), full of hate, bigotry. Those with diverse opinions aren’t welcome.

  15. Mr. Parscale seems to be displeased that the city will not bid to host the Republican Party Convention in 2020.

    “Dime con quien andas, y te diré quien eres” means that you are known by the company you keep. The same might be applicable for tweets in personal/public communications today, “When you show me your tweets, you show me your character.”

    Here are a few of Mr. Parscale’s tweets in the last few days.

    #SanAntonio is an amazing city. Just horrible liberal leadership. I have a strong feeling this is short lived. Weak-kneed @Ron_Nirenberg just made half the city and all the business community his enemy.”

    Here is where I love spin with friendly news outlets. “Nothing to see here, these things happen for unknown reasons.” Yeah right. @COSAGOV policies and liberal agenda have caused a destruction of safety in #SanAntonio”

    When will the nation see that the most liberal cities are economic and crime disasters. San Antonio’s city council on their thrones is proof of this disaster. Weak-Kneed @Ron_Nirenberg is scared to do anything about it.”

    San Antonio is a great city with great people that deserve better than Phony Tommy Calvert and Weak-Kneed Ron. @VoteCalvert @Ron_Nirenberg both are lying to the city for their own political gain. Wake up SA, your officials are making your paychecks smaller!”
    I have never met him, but I assume that Mr. Parscale is bright, well-educated, thoughtful and chooses words carefully when constructing tweets. Mr. Parscale (and his leader, Mr. Trump), may be exhibiting their true character in the language they choose for their tweets – and in the company they keep.

    Regardless of the merits of the decisions that have been made, sophomoric name calling, derision, condescension, adolescent anger, enmity and petulance strike me as a less than optimum approach to engage in the conversation and to debate this issue.

  16. Isn’t this Parscale the same technology genius who was in charge of the technology efforts of candidate Trump? How is it that he hasn’t been called into account by Mueller? Was he, e.g. at the Trump Tower meeting with other Trump players? Hmm.

  17. Thanks for not spending my tax dollars on the RNC. This has the potential to explode.
    Besides, we need to save the money for Scott Pruitt & Steve Mnuchin private plane trips, and other welfare queens on Trump’s cabinet.

  18. We’re proud of the Chambers for letting the RNC go away.
    BRAVO FOR INTEGRITY. More valuable than MONEY!

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