Will Rocky's protest cry scare off or bring visitors?
While Salt Lake's convention industry pondered the long-term economic impact of Mayor Rocky Anderson's call for protests against President Bush's visit Monday, the organizers of a national veterans gathering took the inflammatory rhetoric in stride.
"The president has been to all our conventions except one. And at every convention, there's been demonstrators," said Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Jerry Newberry. "It's nothing new to us."
Anderson sent out an e-mail to activists last week, calling for "the biggest demonstration this state has ever seen" to greet Bush when he arrives Monday to speak to the convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center. An anti-war rally is scheduled Monday at Pioneer Park.
Anderson, a Democrat who emphasizes the protests would be against Bush, not the VFW or veterans, encouraged participation from a spectrum of opposition groups. "Don't let him come to Utah and not see huge opposition. . . . Let the Bush administration - and the world - hear from Salt Lake City!"
Aaron Bludworth, managing director of Modern Exposition Services, a subsidiary of Salt Lake-based Modern Display, fears Anderson's "hostility" could frighten off future conventions. Modern Exposition provides a wide array of convention services.
"We are spending all kinds of resources to make the city attractive to convention business. Then, Rocky flies off the handle and decides to protest the president in the middle of one of the biggest conventions we have," Bludworth said.
Bludworth sent Anderson an e-mail, saying his actions are "particularly inappropriate when the impact [of the demonstrations] could be so significant on unrelated parties, in this case the VFW, its membership, the convention industry, and the city at large."
The National Rifle Association in July canceled its 2007 national convention in Columbus, Ohio, because the City Council passed an assault weapons ban. Obviously, Bludworth said, political posturing can affect convention business.
Anderson disputed Bludworth's claims and said his call for protest may actually benefit the industry.
"This is not going to hurt the convention business," he said Saturday, adding his high-profile stands on issues, including gay and lesbian rights and the environment, have attracted groups to the city that formerly were put off by Utah's conservative image.
"Progressive cities that have an interesting and diverse entertainment scene and culture life are very attractive to conventions," Anderson said. "I bring people to this city."
Mark Bennett, spokesman for the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors bureau, says Anderson may be right. The mayor's comments potentially could attract convention business to a city that fights a misperception that it is monolithically conservative and Republican, he said.
"In the bigger picture, it actually helps," Bennett said.
Newberry said the VFW has been to Salt Lake City three times and Anderson's comments will have no impact on a decision to return. "Salt Lake City is a great convention town. Everybody likes to come to Salt Lake City."