Officials supporting Houston’s bid to land the 2028 Republican National Convention say the event could bring upwards of $230 million to the local economy, an estimate based on data from national convention host cities in previous years.
But experts who study the impact of national political conventions on their host cities say that figure, which has been the driving force behind a bipartisan effort by city officials to woo the Republican National Committee, likely is a massive overestimate.
“It is wildly implausible that you get a number like that from the convention,” said Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Although the convention does generate some economic impact from people coming to the city, it also wrecks the economic impact for other parts of the city. It is a massive event with security and can shut down parts of the city.”
Houston’s City Council on Wednesday approved a framework agreement for the convention to come to the city in July or August of 2028. In it, city officials pointed to $230.9 million in economic impact brought to Philadelphia by the 2016 Democratic National Convention and said Houston could see an even larger impact.
That figure, which comes from a report by the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, is well short of the $350 million in total economic impact predicted by the Democratic National Convention Committee prior to the event, and it likely is still an overestimate, Matheson said.
Convention economic impact estimates do not account for people who otherwise would travel to cities for business or leisure that are displaced by the massive crowds and security presence brought by a national convention, Matheson said. While Philadelphia did see a large increase in hotel occupancy during the 2016 convention, it only generated about $39 million, according to a yet-to-be published study provided by Matheson.
“You can’t get to $230 million in benefits through other sources if your hotels are only going up by $39 million,” Matheson said. “A hotel room is the most expensive purchase these people will make.”
Promoters of national political conventions consistently have overstated the value of the events to local economies for decades, according to studies of hotel occupancy data produced by Matheson and other researchers.
A spokesperson for Houston First, which markets and operates the city’s performing arts and convention centers and is spearheading the bid, declined to comment on the studies.
If awarded the bid, Houston will not be expected to make a financial investment to host the convention, officials said. The city will be expected to provide emergency services and security, although those costs are eligible for reimbursement through an $80 million federal grant, officials said.
The city also will form a host committee to raise private funds that will be used to offset any additional costs, said David Mincberg, chairman of the Houston First board of directors.
“This convention … will bring thousands and thousands of people to Houston in a time of the year where we don’t normally get thousands and thousands of visitors,” Mincberg told the council Wednesday.
District I Councilman Robert Gallegos was the lone member to vote against the framework agreement. Gallegos, who is running for mayor, pointed to the Texas Republican Party’s platform, which states that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle,” calls for a repeal of the Voting Rights Act and urges the abolishment of abortion.
“This is not a political decision,” said Gallegos, who is running for mayor. “This decision is more important than politics. It’s about the right thing to do.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner urged the council to support the framework agreement in spite of reservations about Republican Party positions that “some may find hard to stomach,” noting the benefits of the convention’s estimated economic impact.
“I went and spoke to their site selection committee and highlighted the importance of our city in terms of our services, our amenities … our hotels, all of those things,” Turner said. “That is what I presented and that is what I sold. I did not incorporate views of the policies of the RNC, but I did present that this is a good city at hosting events.”
The Republican National Committee is expected to select a host city by the end of the month, officials said. Nashville and Miami are also in the running, according to Houston First. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said last week that Miami is the only other finalist.
“Houston is a world class, diverse city,” Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel wrote in a statement. “It’s also the largest city in one of the most conservative states in the country. That being said, Houston hosting the 2028 Republican National Convention seems like a no-brainer, especially when you consider the positive economic impact the convention will undoubtedly bring to Houstonians.”
The Republican National Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
If Houston is selected, the Republican National Committee will pay to rent the Toyota Center and the George R. Brown Convention Center for several days in July or August of 2028, and the event could attract as many as 50,000 people to the city, according to a 2022 Houston First letter supporting the bid.
The city submitted its bid for the convention in July 2022. Gallegos and council member Abbie Kamin voted against the proposal then, voicing similar concerns about the Republican Party platform. Kamin was absent from Wednesday’s meeting with an illness, but Gallegos read a statement from her in which she objected to the convention being held in Houston.
“Any organization has the right to enjoy all that our city has to offer, and they should,” Kamin wrote. “But large numbers in District C, residents, are being impacted by the explicit bigotry that’s being embraced by a small but loud faction.”
Houston has not hosted a national gathering for either party since the 1992 Republican National Convention was held in the now-shuttered Astrodome, where George H.W. Bush accepted the party’s nomination before going on to lose in the general election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
The Democratic National Convention last was held in Houston in 1928.
The city also had bid for the 2024 Democratic National Convention, but lost out to Chicago. The city previously had bid for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, but was passed over in favor of Milwaukee.
“I do believe as it comes to these party conventions, as we would seek to host one, we should also seek to host both,” Turner said. “Otherwise, we should just make a decision to not host any convention at all. It would be hypocritical of me as the mayor to aggressively go after one and go thumbs down on the other.”