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The Economics of the Vice-Presidential Debate

Tuesday, October 5, 2004 at 2:30 PM

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Tonight's vice-presidential debate will thrust both Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University into the national limelight. But there's a price to pay for all that publicity. Between them the city and Case will have spent more than $4 million to host the debate. But both communities are hoping to cash in on the wealth of international media focused on the region. They're betting that both short- and long-term paybacks will return their investments tenfold. ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.

It’s been an expensive campaign season for battleground Ohio cities. As of last week Cleveland’s tally for police protection and traffic control for stumping politicians was more than $270,000. That’s a lot of money for a city ranked the poorest in the nation. But Mayor Campbell’s press secretary David Fitz says the city isn’t worried about the expenses for tonight’s vice-presidential debate.

David Fitz: We’re looking at the vice-presidential debate in a little different light. I mean, it’s not something we will charge the campaigns or the RNC or the DNC or the federal government for. You now, this is good for the city, it’s good to have the vice-presidential debate here. We are going to have more journalists for this vice-presidential debate than were at both the Republican Convention and the Democratic Convention.

There’s no price tag yet for the police, fire, EMS and SWAT teams the city will deploy to keep candidates and residents safe during the debate. But there is an estimate for the economic payback anticipated from the more than 1,500 U.S. and foreign journalists in town to cover the event. Dennis Roach, director of the Visitors and Convention Bureau of Greater Cleveland says most of the region’s 7,000 hotel rooms are full.

Dennis Roach: If we were to take the impact of travel and entertainment, hotel rooms, the impact on restaurants and out entertainment venues, we are estimating just under $20 million worth of economic impact from this in the short term.

On the campus of Case University, President Edward Hundert says he’s invested more than $4 million in facilities upgrades and fees to host the debate. Only 500,000 of that comes from corporate investors. But he, too, believes the immediate payback is worth the price.

Edward Hundert: We want to tell the world about the great things going on at Case Western Reserve University and we’re unabashed about the fact that it’s an exciting opportunity to do so.

Case Chief of Public Relations Michael Ruffner says the hefty investment of dollars makes a lot of sense for the university.

Michael Ruffner: We anticipate getting tens of millions of dollars of media value in return. What that means that if we were to have to purchase advertising schedules that would give us the exposure on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, all of the other networks carrying it, that would be $8-10 million right there.

But both Case and Cleveland hope for long-term gains from the national media blitz the debate will provide. University officials believe they can turn a magnified public profile into future research grants and higher enrollments. The city’s David Fitz says Cleveland hopes to entice new businesses here as global corporations discover the region’s cultural resources and quality of life.

David Fitz: We’re going to have an international business center here in the city of Cleveland that is going to be an incubator for some of these companies from other countries to come in and be able to start their businesses here and have a place to set up their shop and go from there. And we’ll be able to tell you, I think, in the next year, two years, exactly what companies are showing interest and what conversations have led to some kind of specific investment here in the city of Cleveland.

But the biggest long-term payback may come directly from the vice-presidential debate itself. Yesterday Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell joined other city leaders to press home the need for a stronger domestic agenda. They’re calling for more federal assistance on issues ranging from creating new jobs to paying for higher education. Visitor and Convention Bureau chief Dennis Roach says this could be Cleveland’s big chance to thrust the needs of cities onto the national political stage.

Dennis Roach: It is time that the federal government regardless of who prevails in November take a hard look at the economy and take the steps that are necessary to stimulate the economy, primarily in the core cities.

While it may be years before Ohio cities reap the benefits, leaders here say their investment in the vice-presidential debate may be the best they’ve ever made. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

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