Jacksonville, Fla., skyline
(The Center Square) – More than 1,000 businesses, ranging from florists and printing services to hotels and caterers, have registered as Republican National Convention vendors despite its scaled-down footprint, according to Jacksonville’s host committee.
Registered vendors for the Aug. 24-27 convention include more than 125 veteran-owned businesses, nearly 200 minority-owned businesses and at least 300 women-owned businesses, the Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee website showed.
“We continue to plan to host programming each day leading up to President Donald Trump’s speech accepting the nomination on Thursday, August 27th,” the committee said. “We expect there to be evening programming each night, along with some daytime events and festivities.”
Businesses are not dissuaded from participating despite last week’s announcement by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that the convention will be smaller than initial projections, which estimated it would draw 50,000 people and generate $100 million for the local economy.
Because of the Florida’s sustained COVID-19 surge, only 2,500 delegates will be allowed inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena during the first three days of the convention, with 7,500 permitted permitted to attend Trump’s grand finale speech.
RNC plans outdoor events for Daily’s Place Amphitheater, TIAA Bank Field and 121 Financial Ballpark. Among them, weather permitting, could be Trump’s speech because an outdoor venue could accommodate far more people.
RNC moved the convention’s “performative aspects” from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville in June after Trump said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper “forced” him to cancel in Charlotte by requesting it a scaled-down convention because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, Trump said he was “flexible” in demanding Jacksonville host the “full-capacity event” he sought when canceling on Charlotte.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Florida GOP chairman, has imposed a mandatory face-mask order while a statewide executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis restricts indoor gatherings to 50 percent capacity.
Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams, however, raised doubts Monday about the city’s readiness to host the event on such short notice.
“I am compelled to express my significant concerns with the viability of this event,” Williams said in a statement. “I cannot say with confidence that this event and our community will not be at risk.”
Williams said Jacksonville is being asked to host an event that takes two years to plan with only two months to prepare, noting his office has addressed only about 25 percent “of the ask” for the security requirements.
“At this point,” he said, “we are simply past the point of no return to execute the event with safety and security that is our obligation.”
Williams, a Republican, said he has not signed any contracts with organizers and has been saying for weeks planning for the convention, which almost certainly will draw protesters, is inadequate.
The sheriff said a $50 million local law enforcement grant has been whittled to $33 million, with some money already spent in Charlotte.
RNC spokeswoman Mandi Merritt said all will be ironed out soon.
“The RNC continues to work closely with local leadership in Jacksonville on planning for the convention, including on health and security measures, and the Department of Justice is in the process of allocating millions of dollars in a safety grant,” Merritt said. “Jacksonville has accommodated upwards of 70,000 people for football games and other events, and we are confident in state, local and federal officials to be able to ensure a safe event.”
Curry remains in daily contact with Williams, state and federal law enforcement regarding security, according to his chief of staff, Jordan Elsbury.
“Over the next few days, we will continue to meet with Sheriff Mike Williams and his team on how to prioritize public safety related to this event,” Elsbury told reporters.