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RNC seeks to book Pere Marquette Park for events

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires//June 17, 2024//

RNC seeks to book Pere Marquette Park for events

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires//June 17, 2024//

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By Alison Dirr and Ricardo Torres, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Republican National Committee is seeking to reserve downtown’s Pere Marquette Park during next month’s Republican National Convention, a move that comes as the RNC has been pressuring on the U.S. Secret Service to prevent the park’s use as a demonstration area by including it in the agency’s “hard perimeter.”

The park on the west side of the Milwaukee River has been a point of contention for months as the city contemplated locating a demonstration area there during the July 15-18 event. The RNC, the most vocal group planning to protest at the event and nearby businesses have objected to the park’s use as a demonstration area, albeit for different reasons.

The Republican National Committee submitted applications on May 10 and June 6 while the Milwaukee County Historical Society located on the park’s southwest corner submitted another this week seeking to use the park “in conjunction with the event rental of the Milwaukee County Historical Society by the RNC committee,” according to applications released by Milwaukee County.

The applications all denote the events as being private.

“The RNC is hosting private events at the historical society because of it’s convenient location and the park is being considered as a location for Convention Fest & a place to feature local businesses,” Republican National Convention spokesperson Kush Desai said in a statement, referencing the “Convention Fest” daytime experience for delegates, officials, media members and other ticketed guests attending the convention.

The Secret Service previously indicated there was no evidence to justify altering the security perimeter, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

However, in comments to media last week top agency officials left the door open to changing the perimeter if the RNC expanded the area it planned to use. The main RNC event venues are Fiserv Forum, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Baird Center.

In a statement, Secret Service spokesperson Alexi Worley said the security perimeter is still in development and noted that it is the city, not the federal agency, that determines the demonstration areas. The agency is working with law enforcement, the city and the Republican National Committee to “ensure the highest level of safety and security during the 2024 Republican National Convention,” she said.

The city has not released the location of designated demonstration areas or the “parade route.” Those decisions are based on the location of the “hard perimeter,” the fenced in area round the convention venues that the Secret Service is expected to release soon.

The permit applications were filed as Milwaukee and Milwaukee County have been negotiating an agreement for the city to use county parks near the convention venues for demonstrations.

Milwaukee County Parks Director Guy Smith told the Journal Sentinel that if the city doesn’t ultimately want to use Pere Marquette Park, that would open up an opportunity for other entities to rent it out.

“We are working with the city as the partner because they’re the host,” he said.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said he hadn’t been aware of the RNC’s permit applications and did not feel the applications put additional pressure on the city to decide whether to use the park as a demonstration area. He said he wanted to make a decision that takes into account the needs of various impacted groups.

“There are demonstrators that want to be on the stage, and the RNC would rather that they be on the moon,” he said. “So, we have to find somewhere in between in order to make that happen and to make sure we have a smooth convention, where the businesses can reap some of the economic benefits, where demonstrators can have sight and sound (from the convention) and where the RNC will find some satisfaction in that as well.”

Even as the city-county negotiations continue, though, it is seeming less likely that Pere Marquette Park will be a chosen site.

Last week, businesses close to the park raised concerns about the planned protest area, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit against the city on behalf of the Coalition to March on the RNC 2024, the most vocal group planning to protest the convention. The lawsuit, which court records show is scheduled for a settlement conference on Monday, argues the city’s plans for demonstrations during the RNC violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

That additional pressure last week came as the controversy over the park has continued to play out.

Top Republicans have been increasing the pressure on the Secret Service to include the park in the “hard” perimeter, thereby removing it as an option for demonstration zone, while the Coalition to March on the RNC 2024 has argued they should be closer than the park about two blocks away from Fiserv Forum.

Pere Marquette Park along the Milwaukee River in Milwaukee on Friday, May 31, 2024. Last month, GOP officials urged the Secret Service to move protest organizers farther from the downtown venues that will host the RNC than the expected site at Pere Marquette Park on the west side of the Milwaukee River.
Milwaukee County Historical Society permit seeks park rental for RNC ‘activation space’

Ben Barbera, executive director of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, confirmed it has a group renting the facility for the duration of the convention but would not name that group.

The permit application filed under his name with the county Parks Department states that the July 14-19 park rental would be for an “activation space” in conjunction with the rental of the Milwaukee County Historical Society by the “RNC committee” through the company Four Birds LLC.

The application lists estimated attendance as being between 250 and 500 people.

Barbera said the Milwaukee County Parks Department told him it was holding permit applications “while they figure out what’s going to happen with the park.”

Barbera said last week Secret Service met with area business leaders at Oak Barrel Public House to discuss “logistics” such as how to get employees in and out of the area. He said the Secret Service did not answer questions about the protest zone at the meeting.

In all, Barbera said the historical society’s position has greatly improved with the rental of its building. Late last month, the building had not yet been rented out for the convention and Barbera had expressed concerns about being at the heart of any potential conflicts.

“Went from not having a booking to having a booking for the duration of the event,” Barbera said, adding that his concerns about the safety of the building have gone down. “This will be a source of revenue for us.”

Previous Republican National Commitee applications sought Pere Marquette Park for prayer, ‘community impact festival’
Earlier permit applications filed by the Republican National Committee sought to use the park for two reasons.

A permit application filed May 10 said the park would be used from July 15-19 for an “RNC non-denominational faith prayer gathering.” Attendance was estimated at 300.

“The RNC will be providing a place for individuals of all faiths to gather to pray and celebrate different faiths,” the application states.

Another application filed June 6 sought to use the park from July 14-20 for an “RNC Convention Community Impact Festival.”

It is described in the application as providing a “central location for local non-profit organizations identified as community impact partners of the Convention to interface, educate, and conduct operations with Convention delegates, attendees, media, and guests, as well as United States Secret Service (USSS) protectees, and elected officials.”

The application states that the local non-profits would be given exhibit space to promote themselves and conduct outreach activities that would help them “ensure a long-lasting community impact from the Convention.”

It also notes that the RNC has contracted with the Historical Society to rent its venue “for the duration of the convention.”

That application estimated an attendance of about 200.

The article was first published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was republished with permission. 

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