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What will be the economic impact of the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago? Experts disagree

The likely economic impact of the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago
The likely economic impact of the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago 03:40

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Hopes are high in the business community for a strong economic benefit with the 2024 Democratic National Convention is held in Chicago.

As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported, the United Center celebrated the return of the DNC with a highlight reel – showing President Bill Clinton accepting renomination for a second term at the last Chicago DNC in 1996, and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in 2020. It highlights the excitement that is already building.

"The DNC convention generates $150 to $200 million into the local economy of the city its hosted in, and we expect that to be no different in 2024," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last year.

From a business standpoint, one trade group representative said the convention is nothing but good news.

"You cannot underscore the importance that it has on the entire economic picture," said Michael Jacobson, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association. "I think where Chicago stands alone is that there's going to be very little, if any, new infrastructure that needs to be built for this convention."

Chicago beat out New York and Atlanta for the convention. Jacobson predicts that 50,000 visitors will come to Chicago when the convention comes around next August – leaving an economic impact of some $200 million, much as Mayor Lightfoot said.

But maybe the most valuable benefit of all will be how Chicago will be under a favorable spotlight, according to Jacobson.

"Few times as a convention bring the media landscape, and how many reporters will come here - again, broadcasting to every corner of the world - and putting Chicago in that positive spotlight," Jacobson said. "So this is where the DNC Really rises above the rest in terms of the positive impact we'll have on the city."

But Victor Matheson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, urged caution when making estimates about economic benefits.

"Take whatever number the boosters are telling you, move the decimal point one to the left, and that's probably a pretty good estimate of what you're actually going to get out of an event like this," Matheson said.

Matheson authored a study on the true economic impact of national political conventions – using hotel cost and occupancy data from previous years. He said the boost to the host city is closer to $20 million rather than $200 million.

"And what a big event like this does is it dissuades lots of people from coming to the city during those times," he said. "For example, when New York City held the 2004 Republican National Convention, attendance at Broadway shows was down 20 percent during that week - as regular tourists to the city were scared away by the security and the congestion."

And while the DNC is a major national event, when it comes to conventions, it is considered by those in the industry to be medium-sized by Chicago standards.

The 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and the Republican National Convention in Cleveland did bring in big bucks for the region, but according to economic impact studies, Philly's convention brought in about $120 million less than the $350 million that was projected, and Cleveland's convention brought in an impact of about $142 million — shy of the $200 million originally calculated.

"The devil is always in details," said Iryna Lendel, Director of the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State University.

Lendel, one of the authors of that study, said their calculations were pretty conservative, and the large amount of security for the 2016 RNC — in part, because of a very notable convention attendee in then Republican nominee Donald Trump — had an impact on the bottom line.    

"I think many regular visitors who would come to go to the city at that time, for dining or for just business, they just avoided Cleveland in those days, so that was sort of a negative effect," Lendel said.

But ultimately, she says Chicago is, in some ways, even better suited for a national convention. By contrast to Matheson, Lendel thinks the $150 to $200 million figure could be realistic.

"Chicago is a larger city with even more attractions than Cleveland. So it's realistic to expect that visitors who would come, would additionally explore the city, would dine in a city, would you know go to some additional events," Lendel said.

Of the $230 million -- the 2016 DNC in Philly brought in more than $132 million in direct convention-related spending and more than $11 million in state and local taxes. 

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