First, the 2020 Republican National Convention was scheduled to take place in North Carolina, with Charlotte as the host city. Years of planning goes into these carefully orchestrated events, but as the Coronavirus situation worsened into the Spring, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, warned the GOP that the convention would not be able to take place in his state as originally planned due to Covid-19 restrictions. With President Trump facing the possibility of being forced into a “virtual” convention, like the Democratic Party in Milwaukee, or dealing with a mostly empty socially-distanced arena in Charlotte, the RNC set off to find a new venue in a different state, perhaps with a more “friendly” governor.
Not too far down the road from Charlotte, just a hop over Georgia, sits Jacksonville in the Sunshine State of Florida. For a time, moving the bulk of the convention, including the President’s acceptance speech to a packed arena in Florida seemed like it would fit the bill. The VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena seemed like a capable spot to hold a packed convention in a state where Covid-19 restrictions were less imposing than North Carolina.
However, in recent weeks, Florida has now seen some of the highest spiking numbers of Coronavirus infection rates in the country leading some to question whether holding any large event in the state is wise.
According to reports, the RNC will be limiting attendance to the convention for delegates only on the first three days, then for delegates plus one guest each on the final day:
Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who is overseeing planning for the convention, has written a letter to RNC members saying that attendance for the first three nights of the four-night event will be limited to delegates. When Trump delivers his nomination acceptance speech on the fourth night of the convention, August 27, attendance will be expanded to delegates, a guest of their choosing, and alternate delegates.
In some respects, it sounds as if the Republican Convention will be mostly virtual, but not entirely virtual. The first three nights will feature a lot of video production and limited crowd sizes.
There is still some maneuvering to possibly hold President Trump’s acceptance speech at an outdoor venue which would lift some of the restrictions on crowd size and social distancing:
Another issue the RNC faces is logistics. Reports surfaced late last week that the RNC was contemplating moving from inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena to outdoor venues. Some potential spots included Daily’s Place at TIAA Bank Field and the baseball stadium where the Jumbo Shrimp play.
News4Jax reached out to PRI Productions, which has produced large-scale events like this. PRI said the production of the event would be similar to events like Jaguars games or the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, which are also held outdoors.
With the popup storm weather of Florida, an outdoor speech could be risky, especially a speech which is to be delivered live for national and international consumption. The closest comparison could be the acceptance speech of then-candidate Barack Obama held at Mile High Stadium in Denver back in 2008. The weather was perfect back then for Obama, the night went off flawlessly and helped propel him to the White House.
To gamble on an outdoor venue in Florida, however, is riskier than Colorado. The raw truth is that an indoor venue is probably a necessity to avoid interference from the weather. It’s possible that the campaign will prepare contingency plans for both potentialities, an outdoor speech with plans for an indoor backup.
According to reports from CNN, an outdoor/indoor event is likely in the works:
A Jacksonville city official involved in the planning told CNN that TIAA Bank Field, where the Jaguars play, is connected to Daily’s Place Amphitheater. They were told in a planning meeting late Wednesday that they plan to use the amphitheater, in addition to a very large outdoor attached space, which is now the tented Jaguar practice field.
“The amphitheater is nice because it’s covered and you can use the stadium’s lounges during concerts,” the official said.
“They are looking for as many big tents as possible because it can rain every day,” the official said. “All bets are off if there’s a hurricane.”
The suspense of what might happen and how the convention will unfold is the type of thrill that Donald Trump thrives on. During the 2016 campaign, he would often make remarks such as, “you’ll have to wait and see,” in an attempt to hype his upcoming events or announcements. The President enjoys the chaos to an extent since it keeps viewers, and in this case, voters, tuned into to see what happens.
As it stands now, the bulk of the 2020 Republican National Convention will take place in Jacksonville from Aug. 24 to Aug. 27, but which activities take place at which particular venues remains up in the air.