In Milwaukee, restaurants and venues fear they will see limited momentum in the NCR

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Dan Jacobs, a contestant on the new season of “Top Chef,” is becoming a national star with his soups, cheese delights and elevated snacks, and his open fight against a rare degenerative disease.

But that publicity hasn’t translated into an increase in potential customers booking evenings at his Milwaukee restaurants, DanDan and EsterEv, ahead of the Republican National Convention, which is just three months away.

“We have not received a single inquiry, practically nothing,” said the restaurant owner. “That’s where I think everyone says, ‘What’s going on?’”

With the Republican convention set to begin in Milwaukee on July 15, some of the city’s largest and most sought-after restaurants, concert venues and other venues are alarmed by the slowness with which expected events around the convention are taking shape. meeting.

Birch, whose chef, Kyle Knall, has twice been nominated for the James Beard Award for best chef in the Midwest, has no signed contracts and, in fact, has only received one inquiry, the restaurant’s management said. The funny one, old world pabst and Riverside theaters They are also not booked, according to entertainment industry officials. Leslie West, co-owner and director the Rave, Eagles Club and Eagles BallroomHe said he had given up and would “just book our own shows during the RNC period, no need to worry about that.”

“We’re seeing what everyone else is seeing,” said Adam Siegel, whose restaurant, Lupi & Iris, is finalizing contracts for two 100-course lunches, but hasn’t seen the full restaurant takeovers he expected. “There’s no sense of security that it will move forward the way most conventions do.”

Its co-owner, Michael DeMichele, later declared himself “delighted with the lunches that are being booked.”

Last August, when the Republican Party chose Milwaukee as the site of its convention, the city’s Democratic mayor, Cavalier Johnson, touted it as “full of unexpected gems” and urged convention-goers and attendees alike. party to “take all your money to Milwaukee, spend it that week.” and leave it.”

Now, theories abound in Milwaukee about why bookings are off to such a slow start. Among them: convention staff turnover after the presumptive nominee, former President Donald J. Trump, cleaned house at the Republican National Committee, a turnover that officials deny occurred; a small city that lacks infrastructure for events; and the reluctance of potential convention attendees to participate in an event that showcases Trump and his most ardent supporters.

Republicans involved in planning the convention say concerns are overblown, fundraising is ahead of schedule and reservations are being actively negotiated between groups and venues. The RNC Arrangements Committee cited 50 events that “have already been signed or are soon to be signed.”

“The fact is that the incredible support of the Milwaukee business community and beyond has put this convention in an unprecedented position for success,” said Reince Priebus, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and Trump’s first chief of staff in the White House, who now chairs the Milwaukee Conference. host committee, which is primarily responsible for fundraising. “We are ahead of previous host committees in our fundraising efforts and ahead of schedule in our financial and other goals.”

Elise Dickens, chief executive of the Arrangements Committee, said: “Our team works around the clock to connect external groups with local businesses to organize unforgettable events.”

and some reservations are going. The Bradley Symphony Center has “confirmed reservations,” said Rick Snow, the center’s vice president of facilities and building operations, with “additional events in the works.”

“Now a lot of work will begin,” he said. “People who have done large-scale events before know that things really go well in the final weeks of planning; It is the nature of the beast.”

But about 100 miles south of Chicago, the city that will host Democrats about a month after Milwaukee, the nature of the beast has been the opposite, organizers and event planners said. Navy Pier is full. Her Offshore Rooftop restaurant and another popular lake-view penthouse bar, Cindy’s Rooftop, have multiple contracts, as does Chicago Cut, a popular steakhouse on the Chicago River. The Salt Shed, which has a capacity of 3,600, is signposted for concerts.

Kimball Stroud, a Democratic event planner, said so many Chicago movie theaters were booked this spring that she “did deep” and discovered the newly renovated and opened one. Ramova Theater in the working-class neighborhood of Bridgeport, and then bought it for two nights: one for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ gun control organization, another for a yet-to-be-disclosed client. She’s also trying to make it through a third night.

However, Republicans involved in planning the convention say business in Milwaukee should begin to improve soon. Democrats who hosted their convention in Chicago, a much larger city, had the advantage of being able to quickly book state delegations into eight downtown hotels. However, in Milwaukee, the GOP just sent hotel allocations to delegates at the end of March, in 110 hotels spread across southern Wisconsin.

Delegates, corporations, lobbying firms and trade associations may have been waiting to find out where those hotels would be located before they were ready to sign contracts for restaurant meetings, concerts and warehouse parties.

Evan Hughes, co-founder and CEO of Central Standard Distillery and Central Standard Crafthouse & Kitchen, said Friday he had three overnight acquisitions booked and three proposals in negotiation. CNN and Politico are expected to open a joint media center and dining room, most likely in the same decorous space in downtown Turner Hall that the media organizations had reserved for the aborted 2020 convention.

Hughes said he had heard from several planners that the groups had prioritized securing venues for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and were now “focusing on Milwaukee.”

But if Trump is involved, the white knuckles tend to follow. Managers there say turmoil at the Republican National Committee, after Trump became the presumptive nominee and began installing an even more loyal team, has meant business partners have pulled out and been replaced by new faces. . Republican National Committee officials say there has been no turnover. Potential clients have asked for clauses in the contracts to exempt them from liability if Trump simply cancels the convention.

“This is a great opportunity for our city to shine,” said Lupi & Iris’ Siegel, “and that’s all we want, for our city to shine.”

In 2020, Democrats opted to hold their convention virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, canceling it in the city of Milwaukee as hotels and businesses emptied across the country. The Republicans carried out part of theirs in the White Housea radical break with tradition that mixed politics with the symbols of governance and led Democrats to accuse the Trump administration with a litany of Hatch Act Violations. (The law generally prohibits government employees from engaging in partisan activities.)

Eight years later, Trump is a well-known character and his presence is a much more complicated factor. A Milwaukee bar, the Mothership, announced last month that it would close because of the convention, because owner Ricky Ramirez said, “I’m not trying to get involved or actively take money or rent space to that bar.” antics.”

Some organizations will have a foothold in Milwaukee while betting on Chicago. The Latino Leaders Network will hold a reception at a Milwaukee law office for about 150 people, said the group’s president, Mickey Ibarra. It’s having a blast at Navy Pier for 750 guests, with a contract that allows it to expand to 1,000.

“There will be a very big difference,” he said.

But even in Chicago there is some concern that, beyond unions, state chapters and liberal interest groups, large corporations may be avoiding the Democratic convention, because those companies are also avoiding Republicans, Sam Toia said. President. of the Illinois Restaurant Association. As in Milwaukee, conversations are being held with these types of companies, but contracts have not yet been signed.

Nervousness from deep-pocketed corporations may be keeping some of the biggest, most expensive venues out of the conversation. The Milwaukee Art Museum, with its panoramic views of Lake Michigan designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, will not host private parties, for example, convention and Milwaukee officials said, citing cost and a desire not to entangle the museum with politics.

In some cases, there has been a clear mismatch in expectations. The Riverside Theater had planned to charge a group $116,804 for a movie screening, an open bar and appetizers for 50 people, according to an invoice obtained by The New York Times. The venue is not yet booked, entertainment industry officials say.

Many companies claim that, within three months, these conflicts should have been resolved long ago. In February 2020, just before the pandemic threw plans into chaos, much of Milwaukee was already booked for the summer Democratic convention.

Stroud, the Democratic event planner, said that in February, she had been studying the possibility of building a temporary floor above the fixed seating at the Pabst and Riverside theaters to allow revelers to dance and socialize. And Jacobs, a Milwaukee restaurant owner, said she had been selling individual tables for a day for $1,000 a seat, while Democratic congressmen looked for places to hold court.

The slow start has a potential cost. Like other Great Lakes cities, Milwaukee comes alive in the summer. The convention will put much of the city off limits in mid-July and send locals running out of town.

“If we don’t see the business, I don’t think our locals are going to be here to support us,” Mr. Jacobs said. “With the Democratic National Committee, we never felt this level of concern.”

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