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Businesses inside convention perimeter 'pretty much screwed,' says former DNC chair

Posted: 2:09 PM, Jul 16, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-16 15:09:26-04
2020 DNC sign inside Fiserv Forum

MILWAUKEE — Downtown Milwaukee businesses inside of the security perimeter for the 2020 Democratic National Convention might be “pretty much screwed” because most of the visitors won’t have access to the businesses, former Philadelphia DNC chairman Ed Rendell said Monday.

The security perimeter for national political conventions is set by the U.S. Secret Service, intended to keep everyone safe. But during a Milwaukee Business Journal event on Monday, Rendell recommended pushing back if agents are looking to set excessive boundaries within the security zone.

Officials are expected to announce the security perimeter for the downtown Milwaukee event later this year, possibly in 2020.

“You have to be very careful to make sure that the security perimeter doesn’t essentially take away the heart and soul of downtown Milwaukee,” Rendell told the Milwaukee Business Journal, “because inside the security perimeter, only people with guest badges can go beyond the perimeter at certain times of the day,” he said.

The former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor provided his own example of the struggles, dining at Morton’s Steakhouse shortly before the 2012 DNC event in Charlotte.

“I went to Morton’s for dinner and I figured we’d have trouble getting a table,” Rendell said. “There were only three tables filled on Sunday night at Morton’s. So you have to win that battle,” Rendell told the Business Journal.

While security concerns are unique to each convention, the logistical planning for Milwaukee’s event will differ from Charlotte or Philadelphia.

Many businesses close to Fiserv Forum are expected to be booked well in advance of the convention. Businesses such as Punch Bowl Social & Good City Brewing are directly across the plaza from Fiserv Forum.

Liz Gilbert, the executive director of the DNC host committee, confirmed to the Business Journal that the security perimeter has not been set.

"Security personnel will work alongside business in an ongoing collaboration as we finalize our planning ahead of the convention next year," Gilbert told the Business Journal. "While an event of this size may cause inconveniences, the Secret Service, working together with law enforcement partners, will make every effort to anticipate and minimize any disruptions," Gilbert said.

In an interview after his comments at the event, Rendell said he personally took a role in reaching out to the Secret Service about a smaller security zone. Rendell said he succeeded in his efforts to shrink the perimeter with the help of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation.

“I called our federal officials, I called Senator (Bob) Casey, I called our congressmen and said, ‘This is ridiculous, it’s not necessary for security. We need your help,' " he told the Business Journal.

“You have to be very careful to make sure that the security perimeter doesn’t essentially take away the heart and soul of downtown Milwaukee because inside the security perimeter, only people with guest badges can go beyond the perimeter at certain times of the day." — former DNC chair Ed Rendell

He estimates the Philadelphia host committee achieved a reduction of “about 20 percent” in the section of the city designated for the security zone.

Businesses outside of the security perimeter will need to be creative to attract DNC guests, Rendell said. Conventioneers will have significant “dead time” outside of the arena during the day and in the evening, he said.

“The more creative you are, the more business you’ll get,” Rendell told the Business Journal.