Watertown may benefit from 2020 convention

March 13, 2019

Hotel and other hospitality related businesses in the Watertown area are already bracing for what operators believe will be an influx of business related to the announcement Monday that Milwaukee will host the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

The event will run from July 13-16, 2020, attracting as many as 50,000 delegates, after DNC Chairman Tom Perez picked Milwaukee over Miami and Houston. This will be the first time in more than a century Democrats will gather in a Midwest city, other than Chicago, to nominate their presidential candidate. Milwaukee will also be one of the smallest cities to host a presidential convention, topping the two other finalist cities that have hosted national political conventions and Super Bowls.

“I think it’s wonderful for the state of Wisconsin,” Watertown Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Dascenzo told the Daily Times Monday afternoon, just hours after the announcement was made that Milwaukee would host the event. “We have a lot to offer the visiting public, and how much impact we get in Watertown remains to be seen. But there will be some.”

Dascenzo said at this early stage of the game, however, it’s difficult to gauge potential event impact.

“When the professional golf tournament was in Erin Hills, we got some hotel stays in Watertown and people came here to shop and dine,” Dascenzo said. “What we need to do is put together some material to send out that will allow us to work with the people in Milwaukee to let the people know we are here.”

Dascenzo will be working with her chamber colleagues in the coming weeks regarding how they will approach the new opportunities presented by the convention of 2020.

“This is certainly something we will be working on,” she said. “We frequently get residual business from these types of events and I imagine we will have some again. But it will hinge on how we market ourselves. It all comes down to our budget, because we have other projects in the pipeline right now.”

Dascenzo mentioned Watertown also experiences overflow tourism from events such as the World Dairy Expo in Madison and the occasional Harley-Davidison rallies and anniversaries in Milwaukee.

“With our location halfway between Milwaukee and Madison, we do get some spillover,” Dascenzo said. “It’s an hour drive to each of the cities, but it’s a pleasant drive for the most part, with lighter traffic most of the time, and it can be scenic ... This is exciting news and I am very happy for the state, but we just need to digest this news here right now.”

Cheryl Mitchell is the general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Watertown. Mitchell is excited at the prospects the convention could offer the hospitality industry in Watertown and the surrounding area.

“That is big news. We will absolutely be affected by the DNC convention,” Mitchell said. “We will have overflow business from not only the attendees, vendors and sponsors of the event, but from other people looking for rooms for other events, because most hotels within a 50-mile radius will be full about a year ahead of the event dates.”

Mitchell said most people who are looking to book hotels for weddings and other leisure events may not realize the impacts the Democrats’ national convention will have on the region’s lodging opportunities.

“They may underestimate the impact of the event and will find themselves either changing their event date or staying 100 miles or more from where they would like to be,” she said. “It’s a weekend that most hotels might be full anyway, but an event this large will probably affect hotel occupancies at least a week or two before the event and probably a week after it. Press, vendors, sponsors, attendees and others will have to arrive earlier and stay later.”

Mitchell said the convention is comparable to the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson.

“And this affected hotels all the way to Madison and probably a larger area than even that,” she said. “It’s going to be a huge benefit to the state of Wisconsin and northern Illinois, as well.”