CLEVELAND - As the first voters cast their ballots for president in Iowa, preparations are already well underway for the culmination of primary season, when Republicans will nominate their candidate in Cleveland the week of July 18.
The tables are set for downtown restaurants to cash in on convention goers, as they've begun booking out their facilities for the week. It's a way to guarantee revenue at a time when regular customers might stay away.
The Driftwood Group, which owns seven restaurants and two catering businesses, said four of its Cleveland restaurants are booked. Partner and consulting chef Chris Hodgson said The Hill, a D.C. political web site, has booked Hodges, located near the Q, to use as a headquarters for meals, workspace and entertaining.
"Our mindset was find an organization, book it for the whole RNC. That way, we protect the revenue, we keep our employees happy and we're making more than what we would make just being open for that week normally," Hodgson said.
Driftwood's Bin 216 and Cibreo Italian Kitchen in Playhouse Square are also booked, according to Managing Partner Scott Kuhn. He said Driftwood has been in talks with organizations including Google, Facebook and The Daily Show and are finalizing deals with state delegations. Kuhn said catering business is also picking up for the RNC, and Driftwood plans to hire additional temporary staff.
Hodgson said they learned from restaurants in previous cities that people attending conventions often have full schedules, and don't always frequent restaurants on a walk-in basis.
"There's really not a lot of foot traffic of people wandering around saying, 'Oh, ya know what, today let's go have a dinner for 10 people at Hodges. So this was a way to really protect that," Hodgson said.
Despite so many restaurants being privately booked, Joe Marinnucci, President and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, said there should still be available options.
"We know a substantial amount will be available to the general public or to residents during that period," Marinucci said.
He said downtown has the capacity to support 125,000 workers who commute into the central business district daily.
"We want this to be a good experience for Clevelanders, we want them to feel free to come downtown, to feel the buzz to feel the energy, to go to restaurants to enjoy themselves," Marinucci said.
The security perimeter has yet to be announced. According to Marinucci, the RNC is expected to have an economic impact of $250 million in Northeast Ohio.