The cancellation of the Republican National Convention that was to be held in Jacksonville is drawing mixed reaction from local civic and business leaders.
“Disappointed that it didn’t work out,” said Kelly Rich, executive director of Springfield Preservation and Restoration, an urban renewal group for a residential area just north of Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in downtown where convention events were scheduled to be held.
Shortly after the GOP announced in June plans to move the convention to Jacksonville, Rich said some of the 5,000 residents in Springfield’s historic district began to reserve Airbnb rentals to Republican Party faithful. That was two months out from the convention set to take place in August.
“It could have been a huge win for Jacksonville,” Rich said moments after the cancellation Thursday. “But the stress and division it was causing within the city makes me feel cancellation was the best decision.”
President Donald Trump announced Thursday he was scrapping plans to hold several key events, including his formal acceptance of the nomination from the Republican Party for another four years, in Jacksonville from Aug. 24-27. Trump cited the resurgence in COVID-19 outbreaks as the main reason for the cancellation of any events on the First Coast.
There will still be some limited activities in Charlotte, N.C., where the convention was originally supposed to take place.
The decision to potentially relocate the convention to Jacksonville also would have come during months of racial tension that has roiled city civil rights leaders.
Dozens of demonstrators were arrested after multiple protests the weekend of May 30 and 31 in downtown. Thousands marched outside the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office — only blocks from the arena – and dozens were arrested by police after violent clashes during the two days.
Many of those arrests were dismissed by Fourth Circuit Court State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s office after prosecutors said the charges of unlawful assembly and resisting a police officer without violence would not stick in court.
Still, several more demonstrations were held downtown in ensuing weeks, one drawing up to 8,000 people in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, who died during a police arrest in Minneapolis that was video taped.
The Jacksonville protests also aired grievances against local police and many demonstrators say the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is getting away with illegal killings.
The Jacksonville Northside Coalition and the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, organizations that formed early protests this summer, promised civil rights demonstrations would be large, peaceful and confrontational during the convention.
Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition said during a protest in June that there would be large demonstrations during the GOP event.
“Thousands of us will meet the President right here on the streets of Jacksonville, Florida,” Frazier said to a cheering crowd during a demonstration outside JSO headquarters June 27.
Monique Sampson is an organizer with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee and said she’s thrilled the convention isn’t coming to the city.
“Because of all the racial tension here in Jacksonville, we didn’t like the idea of thousands of racists descending on our city,” Sampson said Thursday afternoon.
“I am ecstatic and this will give us room to work on the problems we have here in the city and it won’t put our citizens at risk,” Sampson said. “It would have been a mess.
“I think the RNC was probably going to be a powder keg of epic proportions in which the city would have exploded. You have people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. That was evident when we got pissed off out in the street. That was evident when we had thousands of people protesting for three weeks in a row,” Sampson said.
In Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood just west of downtown, the restaurants, shops and nightclubs were anticipating an influx of business during the convention.
“Certainly in these times [of pandemic], any business would have been helpful to our businesses and restaurant,” said Warren Jones, executive director of Riverside Avondale Preservation urban development organization.
But Jones acknowledged as the scheduled dates drew nearer and plans for convention events kept changing because of coronavirus issues, it’s not certain the economic benefit would have been out of the ordinary.
“Since we were not sure of the scope of the convention, or the number of people attending, we don’t know what the possible economic contribution the RNC event would have given,” Jones said.