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Virtual Democratic Convention Keeps Milwaukee Out Of The Spotlight

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Joe Biden accepts his party's presidential nomination tomorrow night from his home state of Delaware. He will not speak in Milwaukee, Wis., which once expected to be hosting a much bigger Democratic convention. Corrinne Hess of Wisconsin Public Radio reports on Milwaukee's missed chance.

CORRINNE HESS, BYLINE: Like most mid-sized Midwest cities in the shadow of a larger city - in this case, Chicago - Milwaukee has an inferiority complex. This summer was supposed to help change that. Milwaukee was on deck for a perfect storm of international attention - the Democratic National Convention, major sporting events and nationally renowned festivals. But it was the coronavirus that stole the show. Fifty thousand people were expected to visit Milwaukee during the Democratic National Convention, including 15,000 media from around the world. It was expected to generate $200 million. Now it's virtual. But the city's financial losses are real.

Tom Barrett has been Milwaukee's mayor since 2004. He says he's been grappling with the disappointment.

TOM BARRETT: I wanted to show off our city. I wanted the world to know Milwaukee's story. I wanted local businesses to enjoy an economic boost. And, obviously, those opportunities are not going to occur.

HESS: What's left of the DNC took place at the Wisconsin Center, a downtown convention center. Marty Brooks heads the center and hopes the city's leaders aren't soured on going after national events in the future.

MARTY BROOKS: We've handled this as best as any city could have in regards to all the changes that have been thrown at us in the past couple of months. I have lived in places where the city's had this oh-poor-us mentality, and that becomes very destructive.

HESS: This was supposed to be a showcase summer for Milwaukee - for the basketball arena that opened two years ago, for all the new restaurants that have opened downtown, for the city's growing skyline. And now the area is mostly deserted.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY AMBIENCE)

HESS: The Milwaukee Bucks are in the playoffs, and if they win, it will be their first national championship since 1971. Instead of Milwaukee showcasing the city, the Bucks are playing a delayed season in the Orlando bubble. Next month, a suburb just north of Milwaukee would have hosted the Ryder Cup, drawing worldwide golf enthusiast and generating an economic impact of $135 million. It got postponed until next year.

Alex Lasry is the senior vice president of the Bucks and instrumental in helping Milwaukee land the DNC. He says he wants people to know Milwaukee can compete with cities like Houston, Miami, Denver and Chicago, but concedes the Democrats made the right call not to come here.

ALEX LASRY: The reason this was such a big opportunity is because, you know, these type of summers and years don't come around very often. By winning the bid, that's what we were able to show, and I hope that it continues to allow us to be ambitious as a city.

HESS: Whether annual festivals are back next year or national nominating conventions remain virtual is, of course, unknown. Meanwhile, as Milwaukee tries to gain more national attention, this summer has certainly left its mark.

For NPR News in Milwaukee, I'm Corrinne Hess.

(SOUNDBITE OF PELE'S "LINEAR CLOCKS AND DAUGHTERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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