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Kansas City ready to bring RNC back to Heartland

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The last time Kansas City hosted a political convention was back in the summer of 1976.  The city is now in the running with three other cities to host the next Republican National Convention in 2016. The last time Kansas City hosted a political convention was back in the summer of 1976. The city is now in the running with three other cities to host the next Republican National Convention in 2016.

The last time Kansas City hosted a national political convention was in the summer of 1976.

The city is now in the running with three other cities to host the next Republican National Convention in 2016. Kansas City hosted the Republican conventions in 1928 and 1976.

When the Republicans last came to town, President Gerald Ford was in a battle to win his party's nomination with former California Gov. Ronald Reagan.

"We are all part of this great Republican family," said Ford as he spoke to unify the party when he accepted his party's nomination in Kansas City.

He would wind up losing to Democrat Jimmy Carter, a governor from Georgia.

"It was marvelous, two giants having a battle," said Jerry Fogel, former 1976 Host Committee member and Jackson County GOP Chairman. "To see it and be a part of it, it was wonderful."

Fogel reminisced recently with KCTV5 about his experiences in securing the 1976 convention.

Fogel and representatives from nearly 20 other cities traveled to Washington D.C. to make their pitch to the Republican National Committee.

When the morning of the presentations arrived, Fogel said several limousines ferried them to the White House.

At the gate, a security guard asked for identifications of the men in the car. It turned out Fogel forgot his wallet.

All he had on him was his TWA plane ticket and a credit card. That was enough at the time, to allow him beyond the gates and into a meeting with Ford in the cabinet room.

"He looked at me and said, 'how are things in Kansas City, Jerry?'" Fogel recalled.

Fogel took the chance to pitch the president on the city. Ford had yet to say that he was running.

"I said, 'Things are great in Kansas City, Mr. President ... they'll even be better if we get to nominate you at the convention in Kansas City,'" he said.

More than 22,000 visitors came in August 1976 for the convention. Some of those guests stayed in hotels as far away as Topeka.

Some critics felt there wasn't much to eat or do around the convention site of Kemper Arena.

At the time, Kansas City got a big boost from the recently built Kansas City International Airport, Crown Center and the red-hot Kansas City Royals playing at Kauffman Stadium, which opened in 1973.

To put on the big event, it cost the city $500,000. Accounting for the cost of inflation, that number in today's terms would be around $2.4 million.

The current pitch for the convention had $260,000 put into a fund with contributions from Kansas City, MO, Kansas City, KS, and Jackson and Johnson counties.

It was helped by money from the local 1976 convention fund, which still all these years later had $10,000 left that was not used up.

"We had people calling us for tickets from places we had never heard of outside the United States, the tickets were long gone or spoken for," Fogel said. "The intensity of the interest was unique, Kansas City handled it really well."

In an August 1976 article, U.S. News & World Report said the goal for Kansas City, "is to shed once and for all its reputation of a cow town and establish credentials as an ideal locale for large gatherings."

The country had come out of several emotionally charged conventions in 1968 and 1972, and safety was a big concern for the GOP.

Kansas City's Harvard-educated Police Chief Joseph D. McNamara helped train the city's 1,200 police officers because safeguarding delegates was a top priority.

The former host committee member told KCTV5 News there was a large protective perimeter was setup around Kemper Arena in case of any possible protestors disrupting the convention.

"There was a feeling that this was a good solid, safe choice, that's what Kansas City is today ... good, solid safe choice," Fogel said.

As the RNC site selection team visits Kansas City Wednesday through Friday this week, Fogel feels they'll see what they fell in love with nearly four decades ago, but also see how the city has grown with the area around the Sprint Center and the Kauffman Center to just name a few of the changes.

"We're easy to get to, those things count for something, we have the vision of a progressive, ‘techie' city on the move that really helps, " Fogel said.

The RNC has already made a visit to Cleveland and will also visit Denver and Dallas before making their selection.

The 2016 task force is asking Kansas City businesses to light up their marquees and electronic signs with "Welcome RNC." The 30 members of the site selection team will be greeted by billboards welcoming them.

Jon Stephens, president and CEO of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association, feels good about the presentation.

"All we have to do is show . . . how great our city is and I think we'll do very well," he said. "We want them to be surprised when they arrive."

The committee will be shown the Sprint Center where the convention would be held, the revitalized downtown, the Plaza, museums and other architectural and cultural amenities.

"We are somewhat of an undiscovered destination to a lot of people in America," Stephens said. "This is an opportunity for hundreds of millions of people to see Kansas City on the nightly news every night for days."

Task force co-chair Troy Stremming agreed.

"I don't think you can put a price on what this earned media could do for this community," he said. "Hopefully they will leave here knowing they will not find another city that is as passionate and committed to making this happen."

The other cities vying for the convention are Dallas, Cleveland and Denver. A decision is expected in August.

Click here for more information on Kansas City's history with the Republican National Convention. Herbert Hoover was nominated by Republicans during their 1928 convention in Kansas City. He would go on to win the race.

KCTV5's DeAnn Smith and Emily Rittman contributed this report.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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