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Rickshaws and Shoeshining: The Business Side of the Republican National Convention

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MATT RICHMOND
/
WCPN

Organizers of the Republican National Convention expect that the preparations and spending by an estimated fifty thousand visitors will total between $200 million and $300 million. 

“You mostly just run it with the battery, right? You don’t have to pedal much?”

“No, you pedal; you want to pedal.” 

Michelle Felder has an idea for the Republican National Convention. Felder is a Cleveland entrepreneur, hoping to launch a rickshaw business at next month’s convention. But these aren’t rickety aluminum carts pulled along by a guy on a bike.

“Oh this is kind of fun; I thought it’d be slow.”

“No, it’s not slow, it’s gotta be on the street with cars.”

These rickshaws, or European-style pedicabs, are three-wheeled, battery powered tricycles with a little fiberglass pod for carrying two passengers.

“I thought they would be a cool addition to the City of Cleveland," Felder said. Her idea is to rent the outside of the pods to advertisers during the RNC.

“And then thereafter continue to have use of the pedicabs downtown, Tremont, West 25th, maybe Gordon Park,” Felder said.

Felder is working on getting city permits and still needs advertisers. If it all comes together, she plans to put the money from the RNC into a website. But if this venture doesn’t pan out, Felder still has high hopes for the convention.

“Unfortunately we've had some not-so-great moments in the national news. This is an opportunity for us to highlight the other side; we want people to know this is a great place to come visit, to live, to work and to raise your families," Felder said.

Telling our story
Organizers said something similar when they announced back in 2014 that the convention is coming to Cleveland. Here’s former county executive Ed FitzGerald.

“This is basically our chance to tell our story,” FitzGerald said.

So if it goes well, city leaders hope people will leave with a changed perception of Cleveland. But that’s not something that can be measured. Another argument for the investment and inconvenience that goes along with a convention is the direct spending that comes back to local businesses. That can be measured.

What's the payback?
Holy Cross University economist Robert Baumann has measured the impact of events like this. Baumann and his colleagues looked for boosts in income and employment from 18 conventions dating back to 1972. They found no noticeable impact.

“What you see is that the gains that are almost certainly happening near the convention center and near the Quicken Loans Arena are kind of balanced out by a whole bunch of smaller losses that surround that particular area,” Baumann said.

The smaller losses are people and events who won’t come to Cleveland during that week because of the RNC. It’s the residents who will stay home or leave town to avoid convention-related traffic. It’s the road closures and security measures changing people’s plans.

Baumann says estimating how much money is spent by convention-goers isn’t enough. To get a full picture, you have to take into account the spending that doesn’t happen.

“I think this is a good thing that Cleveland is hosting it, but this isn't going to be anything that solves any short-term budget problems or anything that the city, any city -- Cleveland or otherwise --  based on our estimates is going to get rich immediately from,” Baumann said.

A guick fix-up
"If you’re in Tower City, Tower City Shoeshine, come on in, we’ll fix you up!” 

That’s Raymond Williams, from the shoeshine stand in Tower City. He’s a lifelong Clevelander and says the convention will be a big moment for the city.

“My heart beating fast right now just thinking about it. I could see businesses thriving;it's the best location in the nation. When you start to get exposed to it, you'll come back. Just like when people get exposed to my shoeshine, they come back,” Williams said.

Williams says he’ll be at his stand all day, doubling his daily hours. He’ll pass out flyers and print some business cards. He has high hopes for the city’s four days in the world political spotlight.

This story is Part 1 of a series on the business side of the GOP convention,  part of WKSU and Ideastream’s election collaborative.