RNC 2024 in Milwaukee: boom or bust for local businesses?

Some businesses looking for a Republican National Convention economic boom are worried about a possible bust.

The RNC kicks off in one month, on July 15, and hotels are booked across the region.

VISIT Milwaukee estimated the RNC would bring the region some $200 million.

But some downtown business owners are worried they are missing out.

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Milwaukee businesses

Lupi & Iris in downtown Milwaukee has gained national attention. It was a James Beard Foundation 2023 finalist for the country's best new restaurant. TV show "Top Chef" also featured the restaurant.

Co-owner Daria Aitken-Siegel thought it'd be fully booked for the week of the Republican National Convention.

"Right now it’s a bust. Right now we are hoping. We thought it would be a boom. We’re hoping it will be somewhere in the middle," said Aitken-Siegel.

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For now, it has one party booked.

"All of our friends that own restaurants or event spaces, they’re not booked, either.  So where is everybody?" added Aitken-Siegel.

That's no longer a question at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

The non-profit has now rented out its building during the RNC.

"We’re very happy to have a booking, it really helps our bottom line. Makes us feel a little more secure from a financial standpoint, and it is also an opportunity for us to show our venue and talk a little more about what we do," said Ben Barbera, Executive Director of Milwaukee County Historical Society.

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Up until recently, the society's director was worried it wouldn't get rented. 

He told FOX6 that some people looking into the space were worried it was right next to where the city considered placing a protest zone.

As FOX6 was first to report last week, it is far less likely the city will use that location, Pere Marquette Park, for the protest zone. A main factor: businesses close by the park were worried they were losing out on an RNC bump.

Pere Marquette Park

"It's very gratifying to know that our concerns are being taken seriously," added Barbera.

Milwaukee County History Society building, formerly a historic bank

Other businesses are also experiencing a boom. A block from Fiserv, State Street Pizza Pub is getting ready to feed 500 people during convention week.

"For a small business, it’s a game changer," said owner Andrew Fish. "I’m quite excited about it…All I care about is getting a piece of the $200 million and being able to take care of my staff, being able to take care of my business, being able to expand my business to Madison, which I'm really hoping to do."

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While others still wait.

"We want to showcase our city. And we have a 120 employees here that we want to provide a good living for," added Aitken-Siegel. "We have so many people coming here from all over the country, and they all say the same thing: ‘Wow, I didn’t know how nice Milwaukee is and everyone is friendly and there are a lot of restaurants here there are a lot of things to do.’"

VISIT Milwaukee’s Peggy Williams-Smith told FOX6's convention podcast that they are hoping for lasting business even after the RNC and the cameras pack up.

For example, she said after the first GOP presidential debate, they got a bump in leads for other people looking to bring conventions to Milwaukee.