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Sorry Austin Dems: City Won't Host 2016 Democratic Convention

Update: Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced today that the city won't pursue hosting the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Despite noting that “recent past conventions have injected $150 to $200 million into the [host] cities economies,” Leffingwell cited two hurdles to an Austin convention: facilities and transportation.

Leffingwell told reporters the DNC has very specific operational requests; foremost among that is a facility big enough for convention attendees.

“Austin does not have a bowl, or a basketball-type seating configuration convention hall that is capable of holding up to 25,000 participants,” Leffingwell said. “The closest we can come is the Erwin Center, which … including putting out folding chairs … the max they can reach a capacity of about 16,700.”

The DNC's other request made by the DNC is a consistent and reliable transportation system – a perennially hot topic in Austin.

“I’m not fully convinced that we could meet the transportation requirements,” Leffingwell said. “Those are a little more fluid and a little bit hard to define. … I would point out … that I think I would have a lot more confidence if we had an urban rail system built here.” Leffingwell renewed his call for an urban rail vote in a speech yesterday.

Leffingwell said Austin's inability to host such a high-profile event shows the need for big infrastructure improvements.

“We’ve known that we had this kind of shortfall for a long time, and now we’re seeing the results of kind of not keeping up with things,” he said.

Original Story (11:31 a.m.): Austin is among dozens of cities receiving a letter from the Democratic National Committee to ask about any interest in hosting the party's national convention in 2016. But the city may not have a venue large enough to meet the requirements of convention organizers.

A DNC spokesperson tells KUT News the letter sent to mayors is just the first step in a long process. It essentially asks for a single response to the question, you interested? Soon to follow will be a formal Request for Proposals in which cities can make their pitch to host the convention.

The 2012 Democratic National Convention was hosted by Charlotte, North Carolina. It attracted about 35,000 people who spent $35 million, according toa consultant's report prepared for Charlotte's tourism bureau. The total economic impact of that event, which includes money spent by people who profited from the convention, totaled $163.6 million.

Those numbers are attractive to city leaders, not to mention having your city under an international media spotlight for half a week. Of those 35,000 people who attended the convention in Charlotte, almost half were members of the media.  

CNNfirst reporteda list of more than 30 mayors who had received letters from the Democratic National Committee, although a DNC spokesperson said even more cities were on the list.

Democrats are looking for cities with a venue that could seat 18,500 to 25,000 people and have 100 skyboxes, CNN reported. The city must also have at least 17,000 hotel rooms and 1,000 suites. So what does that mean for Austin?

  • The largest indoor venue in Austin – the Frank Erwin Center, built in 1977 – can host up to 17,900 people. But that's only if the stage is put in the middle of the floor. 
  • The Austin 360 Amphitheater at the Circuit of the Americas has roomfor 14,000.
  • Darrell K. Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium, where Longhorn football games are held, can seat 100,119 people. But would Democrats want to hold a summer event in Austin, Texas at an outdoor stadium with no air conditioning?

The Charlotte convention in 2012 was held at the Time Warner Cable Arena, which has a capacity of up to 19,026 for basketball games. Concerts at the event can host up to 17,685.

As for the hotel room minimum of 18,500, Austin's metro area has 30,000 hotel rooms, but only 7,000 are downtown,according to the Austin Convention and Visitor's Bureau

Cities have until March 1 to respond to the DNC's letter. The City of Austin is playing it coy, for now;  Mayor Lee Leffingwell is holding a press conference to discuss what he calls the "exciting and flattering request"  later today.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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