CLEVELAND – The vote by a Republican panel to make Cleveland its host for the party's 2016 national convention could be a big step in the city's efforts to remake a hard-bitten image forged by decades of misfortune.
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The Rust Belt renaissance might not end there: If LeBron James decides to return to the Cavaliers and Browns' quarterback Johnny Manziel is as good as hoped, Cleveland's collective head might explode with joy.
The GOP's site selection committee backed Cleveland's convention bid on Tuesday and the full Republican National Committee is expected to give its approval when it meets in Chicago next month.
"I've heard many people say we're not used to finishing first," Terry Egger, executive chairman of Cleveland's host committee, said at a news conference Tuesday. "Today we finished in a very important competition."
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, a Democrat, stressed how Clevelanders as a whole, not just officials, went out of their way to welcome Republicans when they were here for their site visits.
"We showed them we were hungry for this," Jackson said.
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It's not difficult to quantify what hosting the convention will mean for Cleveland and the region. Estimates are that the 30,000 delegates and as many as 15,000 media types would spend more than $400 million during their stays in and around Cleveland.
But local officials have been saying for weeks that it's not just about the money — it's about a new image Cleveland can project to the world.
Outside of Detroit, Cleveland's ailing sister city to the north, few places in the U.S. have suffered like Cleveland has the last 50 years. The population has nosedived. It's once brawny manufacturing base has been decimated. The Cleveland public school system is a mess. Its sports teams have been mired in mediocrity. Its series of bizarre crimes have created a kind of Gothic urban nightmare.
But what most of the world does not know is how hard the city's leaders, both political and civic, have worked to burnish Cleveland's image. The working estimate is that in the last 10 years, more than $4.5 billion has been spent or is about to be spent on downtown development. Its streets are not paved with gold, but they are kept clean and empty storefronts have been turned into restaurants, bars and clubs that draw a considerable number of people downtown again.
And in a city with a declining population, the one neighborhood that has seen growth is downtown as young adults and empty nesters find it a desirable place to live.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is in a tight spot, of sorts. He's a Democrat running for governor against a popular incumbent, John Kasich, who may or may not be the 2016 Republican candidate for president.
But no one has accused FitzGerald of shirking his duties during the pitch to Republicans. He said his administration started early, even before it took office, in trying to interest both parties to consider some day holding their conventions in Cleveland. Now that it's happened, he said the city, which is led by a Democratic mayor, and the county will work closely with Republicans to ensure its convention is a great success.
"It's another indication of just how much this community has gotten its act together," FitzGerald said, noting that Cleveland was the only city in the running to host both parties' conventions in 2016. "It has a real economic benefit for the area and people had to put aside political considerations and do what was best for the community."