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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

North Carolina Asks RNC For COVID-19 Safety Plan; Fla. And Ga. Officials Offer Venues For Convention

Spectrum Center
Erin Keever

Updated 4 p.m.

The mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, and Georgia's governor tweeted on Tuesday that their states "would be honored" to host the Republican National Convention if it leaves Charlotte. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, meanwhile, said he's looking forward to "continued talks" about COVID-19 safety with RNC organizers after President Trump tweeted that the convention could be moved to another state.   

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, wrote on Twitter that the city has hosted UFC matches at VyStar Arena during the pandemic and that the 15,000-seat arena could host the convention.

"We would be honored to host the Republican National Convention in that same world-class facility," Curry wrote. "Thankfully, (Gov. Ron DeSantis) and my administration have created a regulatory framework that operates in a way that is attractive to significant events like these."

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, meanwhile, threw his state's hat into the mix on Twitter, too, writing that Georgia has "world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels and workforce." 

But it's unclear if Atlanta, a heavily Democratic city, would want to host. The city didn't bid on hosting the RNC in 2018. 

Trump tweeted on Monday that the GOP needs assurances from Cooper that the Spectrum Center can host the RNC at full capacity. If not, Trump said he would look to move the convention.

On Tuesday evening, Trump said he wants to hear a plan from Cooper within a week.

Vice President Mike Pence said on "Fox & Friends" Monday that the president was looking for clarity from Cooper. He mentioned Georgia, Texas and Florida as states that could host the convention.

"What you hear the president say today is a very reasonable request of the governor of North Carolina," Pence said. "We all want to be in Charlotte. We love North Carolina. But having a sense now is absolutely essential because of the immense preparations that are involved."

He added that "if need be (the GOP could move) the national convention to a state that’s farther along in reopening."

The three-day RNC is scheduled to start Aug. 24 in Charlotte.

Under Cooper's Phase 2 reopening, there is a limit of 10 people for indoor gatherings. If that doesn't change, it would be impossible for the city to host.

North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen has said that mass testing might allow more people to attend the RNC, but she told WFAE last week that the GOP should "hope for the best and plan for the worst."

Cooper said Tuesday that the state has "had discussions with (the RNC) about a very limited convention all the way up."

Asked if he had any indication the president was unhappy with the state's restrictions as they related to mass gatherings, Cooper said he's "not surprised by anything that I see on Twitter."

In a letter sent to RNC organizers on Monday, Cohen asked for convention staff to submit a written plan for COVID-19 safety options. Cooper said the state was having similar discussions with organizations like the Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets and said that NASCAR had submitted virus safety plans before the Coca-Cola 600.

"We'd like to reach a resolution that everybody can be reasonable about that puts public health, safety, the science and the facts as the No. 1 thing we're trying to do here," Cooper said. "We look forward to those continued conversations."

Other States' Options  

Georgia's Kemp said he would like to host the RNC, but Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, said not so fast. She said that Atlanta — like North Carolina —  is following a phased, data-driven approach to reopening and that she doesn’t contemplate hosting a large gathering event in August.

Jacksonville's Curry, a former chairman of that state’s Republican party, wants to host the RNC.

The city’s tourism director, Michael Corrigan, says hosting would be difficult, but he said it could be done.

“I think we could do it, mostly because Jacksonville was the first venue to put on live sporting events since this all happened,” Corrigan said.

That live sporting event was the Ultimate Fighting Championship, although it was a TV-only event with no spectators.

While Florida has reopened faster than North Carolina, the state still limits gatherings to 50 people.

Jacksonville has a Republican mayor and city council, but Republican council member Matt Carlucci says he’s not comfortable moving so fast.

“If I was in administrative leadership or if this comes before council, I’d really want to talk to a lot of health specialists and get as much information as I could before I started packing thousands and thousands of people into a small arena,” Carlucci said.

The former president of the 2012 RNC host committee in Tampa, Ken Jones, said the talk about moving the convention is unrealistic.

“There are so many moving parts to a convention that it would be extraordinarily difficult to pick up and move 100 days out,” he said. “It would be extraordinarily difficult to pick up and move nine months out or a year out.”

Two years ago, cities like Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio decided not to bid on the RNC. In fact, Charlotte was the only municipality to put in a formal bid.

“Not one city in Texas could give assurance to the RNC about our ability to pack an arena or to maintain social distancing or anything like that in this post-COVID world,” said Craig Davis, the CEO of Visit Dallas. He has plans to pursue the RNC.

“We simply don’t have direction from any of our agencies that would otherwise be giving that type of permission to us.”

Some Charlotte Businesses Would Suffer

John Ellison has been planning for the RNC for more than seven months. He owns two places in Charlotte’s South End: restaurant The Gin Mill and music venue Amos’.

Ellison said he signed a contract in October with a group that booked both spots for all four nights of the convention. Now the group, which he wouldn’t name, wants its nearly $44,000 deposit back. 

“We both have kinda decided to wait till like June 10 to see where North Carolina is at that point, but with Roy Cooper pushing bars back to the earliest June 26, it’s definitely not looking very good," Ellison said. 

Ellison said that if the RNC doesn’t happen, his businesses will miss out on up to $175,000. 

“If it could occur, it would definitely help pull us out of all of the money that’s been lost during the pandemic," Ellison said. "It would kind of set us back straight.”

Larry Farber, the owner of Middle C Jazz Club in uptown is also counting on the RNC. Farber said restaurants and entertainment venues were worried before Trump’s Memorial Day tweets.

The pandemic has put the convention’s future in limbo for months. 

“It would be a real blow to all of the venues in Charlotte and of course, everybody that’s been associated with it: food vendors, entertainment, transportation, on and on, if the convention is not here,” Farber said. 

Farber says Middle C could make $50,000-$100,000 hosting related events, but because of the coronavirus, he says no one so far has committed to rent the space. 

“They have viewed our site — they’re ready to go," Farber said. "But nobody wants to pull the trigger until they know that it is definitely confirmed.”

The Mint Museum's uptown location has also struggled during the pandemic, said spokesperson Caroline Portillo.

“We were certainly hopeful that RNC revenue would help us make up some of the revenue we lost when we had to close our doors in March,” Portillo said. 

In a normal year, about 12% of the museum’s revenue comes from rentals. Portillo said the RNC would be the museum’s single largest rental revenue for its next fiscal year, which starts in July.

Reporters Michael Falero and Dashiell Coleman contributed to this story.

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