Members of the Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce were treated to an encouraging pep talk on the upcoming Republican National Convention early this month by George Brown, of the Speakers Bureau of Cleveland 2016 Host Committee.
Undeniably, what the public knows about this momentous event so far is impressive. As Mr. Brown put it, "This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity in Cleveland. It's a game changer, a catalyst for Northeast Ohio." It surely has served as a catalyst for the long-overdue renovation of downtown's Public Square, the heart of the region, which is on schedule for completion before the convention at a cost of about $37 million. That is just part of the $3 billion that has been invested in Greater Cleveland infrastructure improvements over the past few years.
This has been a long time coming, as Cleveland's bids for the 1992 Democratic National Convention and the 2008 RNC were rejected -- both in no small part due to the region's shortage of hotel space. Downtown now offers 6,000 hotel rooms, and the RNC's need for about 17,000 rooms within an hour of the convention, including Solon and the Chagrin Boulevard corridor, is being met.
The convention itself is expected to draw 50,000 visitors to Cleveland, including 15,000 members of the media, which is sure to project national and international images of our city. It is an opportunity to bury those tired, old characterizations about the "mistake on the lake" and "burning river" once and for all.
Even the little village of Woodmere, "the gateway to the Chagrin Valley," is looking to the upcoming RNC for some polish on its image. On March 9, Village Council approved a $46,000 advertising expenditure to promote itself in conjunction with the regional attention being generated.
But political conventions also pose some risks. Will the dismal Cleveland Hopkins Airport convey a negative first impression upon arriving delegates, guests and the media? Will the Regional Transit Authority trains run on time? Will Interstate 77 traffic slow to a crawl? Will Cleveland build foreboding walls and deploy militaristic security forces against potential protests, evoking images of the violent 1968 DNC in Chicago?
Undoubtedly, security is a major concern, which is heightened by pronouncements from Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump about the possibility of riots if he doesn't get his way.
A total of 5,000 police officers are needed for the convention. The Solon Police Department is among those that is preparing to lend a hand, and a number of its officers are well trained for such situations. Police Chief Christopher P. Viland said the event offers a unique opportunity for them, and they "wish to help out Cleveland and the region with whatever help we can be."
That's the kind of spirit that our region needs to show the world.