Delighted Dems dub convention 'perfect'

History made in Denver

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

“The judgment is in. It was a perfect 2008 national convention,” U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar declared last Friday morning, the day after the 2008 Democratic National Convention adjourned.

Salazar, with several other Colorado Democrats and DNC officials, had called a press conference that morning to discuss the final upshot of convention week. The consensus was simple: it was a hit.

“I couldn’t imagine how it could have gone better,” said Gov. Bill Ritter. “We showcased Denver in such a fabulous way, I think from now they’re going to have to pick convention cities based on climate and stadiums.”

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said the city fulfilled its promise of making this year’s DNC the greenest convention in history, that the city kept the peace between police and protesters and that the convention will ultimately prove to have been an economic boon as well.

On the environmental front, he noted that that 81 percent of the waste from last Sunday’s opening media party at Elitch Gardens was recycled. The Pepsi Center, he noted, recycled two and a half times more than it ever had before, and said that the bicycles DNC organizers lent to visitors free of charge logged 26,000 miles.

And, despite the fear of violence that preceded the convention, only 152 arrests were made during the week, Hickenlooper said, compared to more than 1,800 arrests made in New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

“We were able to maintain that delicate balance” of public safety and freedom of speech, Hickenlooper said.

And as for the economic boost to the city, he said that although numbers were still being tabulated, he had spoken to one restaurateur who bested his previous record week by 500 percent. Furthermore, Hickenlooper noted, convention organizers spent about $100 million locally to prepare for the event, and sales tax derived from DNC purchases will benefit both the state and city.

And that, Hickenlooper said, is just “the tip of the iceberg.” He predicts that the media attention Denver has received will drive Colorado’s tourism business for years to come.

“Around the world, people look at the United States of America and they see Chicago, they see L.A., they see New York, three incredible international cities. They don’t know much about Denver or a lot of our other cities. This was a great chance for Denver to kind of rise up a little bit and just begin to establish itself,” Hickenlooper said.

Richard Scharf, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed, saying, “Convention (planners) are going to look at us and say, ‘You can handle anything.’”

Scharf also said that the longstanding question of whether Denver had enough hotel rooms to accommodate such a massive event was finally laid to rest. The city, he said, offered the convention 19,000 hotel rooms, but they used only 17,000.

Tamara Door, the president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, also noted that 113 new trees were planted during convention week, and said they accounted for 1,200 visitors and residents using alternative transportation during the week.

Although the host committee had a hard time raising the $40.6 million it needed according to its contract with the Democratic National Committee, on Friday it was announced that the fund topped $50 million.

“We have easily exceeded the $40.6 million mark by at least $10 million,” said Host Committee CEO Mike Dino.

Dino said finances are still being finalized, but that the numbers will all be available in the committee’s FEC report in mid-October.

“If there’s a shortfall, Steve Farber has volunteered to go back out on the road with me and we’ll make sure we raise that money,” joked Hickenlooper.

Farber, a powerbroker attorney who helped spearhead the push for Denver to host the convention two years ago and made fundraising trips all over the country, said with a laugh that if Denver wants to hold another convention they’ll have to get someone else to raise the money. Farber is a partner in the law firm of Brownstein Farber Hyatt Schreck.

The bottom line, said Congresswoman Diana DeGette, is that the bar has been permanently raised by Denver’s spectacular convention.

“I feel sorry for whichever city hosts the convention next. They’ve got pretty big shoes to fill,” said DeGette, who represents Denver in Congress.