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State GOP plans 2014 convention at Grand Wayne

Fort Wayne was the center of the Indiana Republican Party’s universe on Monday – and it will be again next June.

On the same day the GOP state committee selected city native Tim Berry as its chairman, the panel decided to conduct its 2014 state convention at Grand Wayne Center. It will be the first time the event has left Indianapolis.

By coincidence, the Allen County Republican Party was having a fundraising barbecue and golf outing at Chestnut Hills Golf Club on Monday. Berry, the second-term state auditor and former state treasurer, drove there after his election and first committee meeting in Indianapolis.

“We are going to show Republicans that we have new energy, new life” at the 2014 convention, Berry said to a clubhouse audience of about 80 people. “We are going to show a broader party that is going to be necessary to win elections.”

Berry told reporters that the GOP state committee voted 14-1 to temporarily move the convention to Fort Wayne. Next year’s gathering of about 2,000 delegates – tentatively scheduled for June 6-7 – will nominate a secretary of state, an auditor and a treasurer, all statewide offices currently held by Republicans.

Inspired by the enthusiasm the Indiana Democratic Party demonstrated in shifting its 2012 convention from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne, local Republicans have been lobbying their state leaders in recent months to do the same thing.

Allen County GOP Chairman Steve Shine said the local organization has pledged to raise $250,000 to offset event costs, with convention committee Co-chairmen Bill Bean and Bruce Dye contributing $150,000 between them.

“When this opportunity first presented itself three or four months ago, we pulled out all the stops,” developer Bean told the clubhouse crowd. “And I want you to know I wrote some pretty big checks for what Fort Wayne is going to do for this convention. And I’m going to need the help of a lot of people in this room to make sure it happens.

“We have an opportunity to showcase, in my opinion, the significant progress this city, and this area, has been able to make in the last several years,” he said.

State Senate Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said about the convention: “It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be dynamic, it will be great for our party. And it’s already getting attention.”

Last year’s Democratic Party convention attracted 2,500 people, including 1,409 delegates, who spent about $300,000 in Fort Wayne over two days, according to Visit Fort Wayne President Dan O’Connell.

“They had a great event, very many pleased delegates, a smooth operation and a wonderful experience, and we expect the same from the people organizing the Republican convention,” he said in an interview.

Likewise, the Republican convention is “a prestigious convention for Fort Wayne to host. It will garner a lot of statewide media,” O’Connell said.

Shine said the GOP site selection is “an acknowledgment that Fort Wayne is a key player as a top choice of convention venues in the Midwest.”

One knock against placing political conventions in Fort Wayne is that delegates from southern parts of the state have to travel far greater distances than when the parties convene in Indianapolis. Money raised by the Allen County GOP will “help subsidize delegates’ transportation and accommodations and provide entertainment,” Shine said Monday evening.

“I do think it’s going to be a popular move,” Berry said in an interview. “Initially some will question the change. But the host committee is excited, and I think the energy will spread and we will have a rejuvenated convention.”

He said the state committee will look at considering other Hoosier cities as future convention hosts.

Bean predicted Fort Wayne will be a tough act to follow.

“We’re going to set a new bar for this state on having a state convention,” he said.

Niki Kelly of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.

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