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Associated Press
The world’s largest chandelier hangs in the Playhouse Square district in Cleveland, one of two finalists for the Republican national convention in 2016.

Cleveland finalist for Republican convention

– This Lake Erie city has suffered some bad public relations over the years and has made headlines for all the wrong reasons: poverty, pollution, foreclosure, bizarre crimes and a fleeing population.

Yet thanks to billions of dollars spent burnishing the city’s image and its physical face, Cleveland is one of two finalists for the Republican national convention in 2016 and a longshot candidate to host the Democrats as well.

The city once dubbed “The Mistake by the Lake” will get a chance in August to show how well it can handle big events when the international Gay Games come to town. The Gay Games have drawn more athletes than the Summer Olympics and have been hosted by the likes of Amsterdam, Sydney and, four years ago, Cologne, Germany.

City on rise

Cleveland is sparkling – literally. The world’s largest chandelier was hung recently over the city’s main drag, Euclid Avenue, in the Playhouse Square theater district.

Estimates are that $4.5 billion in projects have been completed in the past decade or are about to begin construction.

The Flats East Bank project on the Cuyahoga River, once so polluted that it caught fire in 1969, features an office tower, a boutique hotel and entertainment venues. There’s also a new casino at Public Square.

Still to come are plans for a lakeside retail and housing development behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, an international tourist attraction.

On Euclid, popular nightspots have replaced boarded-up storefronts. There’s the Euro flavor of East Fourth Street and its high-end dining. The Warehouse District, a collection of clubs and restaurants, is dense with revelers most nights and has become a popular choice for millennials willing to pay big bucks to live downtown.

University Circle, easily reached from downtown by the Regional Transit Authority’s Healthline bus system, is undergoing its own renaissance, with extensive construction and a $350 million renovation and expansion of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Battleground status

Ohio is a bellwether state for presidential politics, and the Cleveland area is a key battleground. No presidential candidate has won without Ohio’s bounty of electoral votes since John F. Kennedy in 1960. George W. Bush clinched his re-election bid in Ohio. President Barack Obama carried the state twice.

While Cleveland is known as a bastion of Democratic politics, there are plenty of votes available for the GOP in its county, Cuyahoga, which has the second-largest number of registered Republicans in the state after Franklin County, home of Columbus, the capital. Columbus also is in the running for the Democratic convention.

The only political conventions Cleveland has hosted were for Republicans. Incumbent President Calvin Coolidge was nominated there in 1924. Things didn’t work out so well for Alf Landon, who was trying to unseat Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.

More than politics

Party officials say politics has less to do with Cleveland making the Republican convention short list than its technical capabilities to host the convention.

Cleveland had a rehearsal for the Gay Games last year when it hosted the U.S. Senior Games, an Olympic-like event that helped christen the city’s new taxpayer-funded convention center.

Cleveland became a finalist for the GOP after its experts determined that Quicken Loans Arena, the city’s hotel capacity and transportation plan, and the availability of alternative meeting sites fit the party’s needs.

Democrats are expected to decide at the end of this year or early next year. In addition to Columbus, Cleveland’s competition for the Democratic convention includes Philadelphia and Phoenix.