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McClatchy-Tribune  07/09/2014 12:01 AM ET
Detroit Free Press Tom Walsh column [Detroit Free Press :: ]

July 09--Reacting to Cleveland's selection as the site for the 2016 Republican National Convention, Dan Gilbert declared "this is great news" in a Tuesday afternoon e-mail to the Free Press from aboard an airplane.

Gilbert, chairman of Detroit-based Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, aided Cleveland's pitch by assuring the GOP that Quicken Loans Arena, which he owns, will be available if the convention opens in June -- even if the Cavs are still alive during the NBA playoffs.

"Dates are already worked out should that happen," Gilbert wrote in his e-mail, without specifying what the alternate site might be.

-- Tom Walsh: Gilbert says Detroit blight can be purged in 3 to 6 year

"The urban cores of large Midwest cities are where the action is these days, and it's great to see the RNC acknowledge that undeniable trend by choosing Cleveland," Gilbert added. "Like Detroit, Cleveland is on a major roll. I can't wait to see what's next."

Gilbert has been a huge investor in Detroit and Ohio in recent years. He moved his Quicken Loans mortgage firm and thousands of employees to downtown Detroit in 2010, and has bought more than 60 buildings in the city core.

He bought the Cavs basketball team in 2007 and subsequently opened a mortgage office in downtown Cleveland.

In 2009, he backed a casino-gambling referendum in Ohio and now operates casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati, in partnership with Caesars Entertainment.

Obviously, Ohio's importance as a crucial swing state in national presidential elections was a bigger factor in Cleveland's favor than the juggling of a possible conflict with basketball games. But the NBA Finals issue was discussed.

Eight cities had been considered to host the 2016 GOP convention, but the finalists were Cleveland and Dallas. Both cities have NBA teams -- the Mavericks play in Dallas. But on the scheduling issue, Cleveland was presumed to have an advantage, because Gilbert owns the arena there, whereas American Airlines arena in Dallas is owned by the city of Dallas, so the Mavericks would have a more difficult time moving their games if they made it far into the postseason.

It might seem unlikely that the Cavs, who have had a string of poor seasons recently, could suddenly become an NBA playoff contender in 2016. But there has been much buzz of late about where superstar LeBron James, who won two championships in the past three seasons with the Miami Heat, might choose to play now that his contract is up.

Would James return to his home state of Ohio and the Cavs, despite the ill will caused by his decision to leave and Gilbert's infamous online rant? Anything's possible.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, in announcing the 2016 site, called Cleveland a "city that's on the rise" and said that the start date would be either June 28 or July 18.

The GOP, which would need access to the area several weeks before the convention, has been leaning toward an earlier date to avoid a long primary season and to minimize party infighting.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in a conference call today, pointed out that Gilbert came up with a plan to make the convention possible, even if the Cavs make an extended run in the playoffs, which typically end in late June.

Contact Tom Walsh: 313-223-4430 or Follow him on Twitter @TomWalsh_freep.


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