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Gazette Premium Content Democratic planners assessing Birmingham for 2016

Associated Press Updated: July 20, 2014 at 12:30 pm

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Already on the upswing with a revitalized downtown and a trendy feel, Birmingham is trying to land its biggest prize in years: The 2016 Democratic National Convention.

And leaders of Alabama's struggling Democratic Party say they're barely involved in the courtship.

Officials with the Democratic National Committee will arrive in Alabama's largest city on Monday for a two-day visit to assess whether Birmingham would be a suitable location for the massive gathering.

Aside from meeting with area promoters to discuss logistical needs such as hotels and arena space, the national representatives will be wooed at a public "pitch party" planned for Monday night at a downtown concert venue. A separate, private party is planned at the city's year-old minor league baseball park.

The chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party, Richard Mauk, said city officials made the bid for the convention and are in charge of the visit, and he's had virtually no involvement.

"I don't know much about it other than I've been invited to parties and I'm going to stand there and shake hands," Mauk said. "The city is totally in charge of it. It is their invitation."

The longtime vice chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, Joe Reed, said he also isn't involved and doesn't even know the schedule for the visit.

April Odom, a spokeswoman for Mayor William Bell, said the city has a nondisclosure agreement with the national party and can't comment.

The Democratic National Committee earlier this month said Birmingham was the first of six cities that would receive visits as the party considers potential sites for its national convention in two years. The others were Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio, a key swing state; New York; Philadelphia; and Phoenix.

The Republican Party has since selected Cleveland to play host for its 2016 convention, eliminating that city from the Democratic list because of an exclusivity requirement. Democrats plan to name their choice for 2016 by late this year or early 2015.

Reed, who has attended every Democratic convention since 1968, said Birmingham compares favorably to Charlotte, North Carolina, the site of the 2012 Democratic convention. Charlotte is much larger than Birmingham, but Reed said Birmingham still has plenty of facilities to play host.

"The question is whether the Democratic Party would come to the South again so soon," said Reed.

Alabama hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and its Statehouse is controlled by Republicans, so the Democratic National Committee doesn't have any reason to reward the state. Realistically, staging the convention in Birmingham won't turn a red state to blue, Reed said.

"On the other hand, if it's intended to try to placate the state and move forward toward a future date we do have a possibility," said Reed.

Birmingham has drawn national attention in recent months for a downtown renewal that includes the new baseball park, excellent restaurants, a new entertainment area and a new Westin Hotel near the city's main convention arena.

Mike Gunn, vice president of convention sales for the Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the metro area has around 18,000 hotel rooms and the convention would need only around 12,000 based on past national party events. Plenty of meeting space is available between hotels and the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, which includes a 19,000-seat arena, he said.

"We really could host it," said Gunn. "It would take all the communities working together ... but we could pull it off."

Even being considered for the convention has helped spread the word that the city has the capability to handle major events, he said, and it's putting Birmingham on the radar of convention planners looking for new, different sites.

"Those calls have already started coming," said Gunn.

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