JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – From the Queen City to the River City.
Jacksonville is the front-runner to host some or all of the Republican National Convention, a committee chairwoman said Wednesday. Ronna McDaniel said reports of a final decision were “definitely premature.” But she made clear that Jacksonville is the favorite.
“There’s a couple more things we need to do before we can announce that, but Jacksonville is absolutely in the front-running position,” she said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
RNC aides were reportedly scrambling to figure out how to handle hotel capacity. Officials were in Jacksonville on Monday for that purpose and to look at the city and its surrounding areas.
News4Jax checked local hotels and there are no reservations available at the Omni, Hyatt Regency in downtown Jacksonville and the Hilton Garden Inn during the week of the RNC in August. Prices are more than double at some hotels on the South Bank between Aug. 24 and 27.
Leaders in St. Johns County are working with Jacksonville to determine additional options, should they be needed. St. Johns has about 6,300 hotel rooms countywide.
Former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney has insight from helping organize the Super Bowl in 2005 when a surplus of visitors came to the city. He said Jacksonville can handle tens of thousands of visitors.
“Super Bowl is 100-120,000 people, and the convention maybe half of that, so there should be enough hotel rooms, again, depending on what kind of outpouring comes out,” Delaney said. “There’s a lot of capacity in town, and let’s face it, they’ve been largely empty for the past three months.”
Visit Jacksonville said there are about 18,000 hotel rooms in Jacksonville with about 2,500 in the downtown area. Estimates show the event could draw 50,000 visitors with a potential $100 million economic impact.
Delaney said there could be other options, as well.
“Already people are going out and reaching out to stay with friends, Airbnbs, converting some rooms with some beds. There is discussion about bringing in one cruise ship to deal with an overflow,” he said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously said that Orlando and Miami could be ideal locations because of the number of hotel rooms.
“We’re still waiting on that final word, but it looks like there’s going to be a great potential for everyone in Jacksonville to benefit from what’s going to happen,” said Randy Goodwin, president and owner of the Jacksonville-based planning and rental company PRI Productions who helped organize the 2005 Super Bowl. “Have we grown enough as a city since 2005 to do what looks like might be coming our way in the next two months? I would probably say not as far as we would like to have come. I think we’ve grown as a city.”
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority said it would work with airlines and rental car companies to sort out the logistics if the city is officially chosen as the new destination for the GOP’s premier festivities. But until then, it’s waiting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report