NYC Disrupts Disruptors

Airbnb Could Be Key to Brooklyn’s Bid for the 2016 Democratic National Convention

On Monday, the Democratic National Convention technical advisory team toured Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Brooklyn is up for the role of hosting city against Birmingham Alabama, Columbus, Ohio, Phoenix, Arizona and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Marty Markowitz, a senior official on the City’s tourism board, has been wooing DNC officials with tales of how “cool” Brooklyn is. However, the technical team was visiting to consider logistics, not coolness. The hipster kingdom may be lacking in what the officials will be looking for.

The DNC has a number of requirements and regulations, which they outline to all cities considered in advance. Here’s what DNC officials are on the look out for during their visit:

  • 345,000 square feet of arena space
  • Seating capacity of at least 18,500
  • 200,000 square feet of workspace available 24/7, 60 days before the convention
  • 180,000 square foot outdoor transportation hub with staging for at least 250 vehicles, with 5,000 reserved parking spots.
  • At least 17,000 hotel rooms and 1,000 suites within 30 minutes of the convention during peak traffic time. Hotels must block off 80% of their rooms, and 100% of their meeting areas, for the convention
  • At least three hotels with 700 hotel rooms and 100 suites in direct proximity to the convention. Hotels must block off 100% of their rooms and meeting areas for the convention.

While New York officials have their hearts set on the convention, so do four other cities, and Philadelphia seems to be its closest competition. The large, urban city has a sprawling suburbia, plenty of open space, and most importantly: hotels. In Philadelphia, there are 30,000 hotel rooms. Almost 4,000 are less than a five minute walk from its convention center, and over 10,000 are a ten minute walk from the center. Their convention center is over one million square feet with well over 5,000 parking spots.

For comparison, at the time of the 2012 convention, Charlotte had 15,000 hotel rooms. They also had the luxury of suburbia: the metropolitan area around Charlotte has 32,000 total hotel rooms. Of those, 4,000 were within walking distance of the Charlotte Convention Center.

Now, we turn to Brooklyn. If selected, the Convention would be held at the Barclays Center. The center has 18,000 seats, but can squeeze in 19,000 people if necessary, just over the 18,500 minimum. The 675,000 square foot center is large enough for the event, but the Barclays Center website notes “parking is extremely limited.” Regardless, the parking pickle is nowhere close to the larger issue of hotels.

When it comes to lodging, Brooklyn is lacking. The local Marriott is just blocks away from Barclays Center, however, it has only 638 rooms and 28 suites. Manhattan has well more than the 17,000 hotel rooms and 1,000 suites needed, but a guarantee of a 30 minute ride at peak traffic is iffy. Still, Mayor De Blasio’s office is pushing for Manhattan lodging, issuing this statement, “With more than 300 hotels and over 100,000 hotel rooms to choose from, New York City will ensure that every elected official, delegate, sponsor and guest of the convention will be accommodated.”

Disruptors

While Midtown Manhattan accommodations are plentiful, they may not be up to snuff for the DNC’s technical team. The travel time is of particular concern. When the technical team visited, they rode in a bus using a “dedicated traffic lane,” which took exactly 13 minutes and 25 seconds. However, this does not accommodate for all forms of traffic, nor for the general congestion it will cause other city drivers.

In Betabeat’s investigation, we found President Obama’s preferred New York hotel, The Waldorf Astoria, is just 8.6 miles away from the Barclays Center. Standard midday traffic puts that at a 37 to 48 minute ride. Rush hour traffic, and thousands of attendees trying to commute to the space at once, could make the trek longer than the 13 minute ride officials experienced yesterday, and perhaps even over the half hour limit set by regulations. Of course, politicians could always take the train. The B is just 31 minutes from the Waldorf to Barclays, but we don’t expect to see the crème de la Democrat on a crowded, sweaty subway car.

There is, of course, another way to house all of these politicians comfortably in Brooklyn: Airbnb.

Though the city has had a gruesome battle with the home rental website, it could offer a solution to the much needed housing required to host the 2016 DNC. A quick search of Airbnb Brooklyn shows over 1,000 full apartment rentals available with the required technological and amenities accommodations noted in the regulations document. These accommodations would be missing the necessary meeting areas, so they could not count towards the three hotels with 70o hotel rooms in the area. Nonetheless, if consider, these apartments could add to the overall number of 17,000 hotel rooms guaranteed to be within 30 minutes of the arena.

Today, Airbnb will issue their “Hosting Big Events” report. The report outlines exactly how the company can help areas like Brooklyn plan for a large event in advance. It takes from Airbnb’s history, as Airbnb was founded out of event housing necessity. In 2007, when a major design conference arrived in San Francisco, it led “the Airbnb founders to come up with the idea of opening their home to travelers.”

Airbnb also has experience with the Democratic National Convention. Their first major event as a company was the 2008 convention in Denver. During this convention, the mayor considered allowing convention attendees to set up camp in parks, as over 80,000 attendees were set to arrive in a city with 28,000 hotel rooms. With that knowledge, Airbnb launched their platform right away. They pushed the idea to bloggers in Denver, “Obama supporters can host other Obama supporters from all over the world,” founder Brian Chesky said in a 2011 interview.

It was at this convention that the founders raised their first round of funding: $30,000 from selling “Obama O’s” and “Cap’n McCains,” custom designed, collectors item cereal boxes.

In their report, Airbnb found that their guests generally stay longer, 5 days versus 2.8 for those in hotels, and spend more $980 versus $670. They also point to a struggle specific to Brooklyn: “Accommodation infrastructure is not always a worthwhile long-term investment, as new lodging is not often fully utilized after the event.” It is not often that Barclays Center neighbors will be required to house thousands for an extended period of time.

Though Airbnb does not specifically address Brooklyn’s bid for the 2016 DNC in their report or accompanying statement, they told Betabeat, “We will ensure officials across the country see the report,” referring to convention organizers. This report also comes soon after Airbnb settled a long time conflict with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over customer records.

The Attorney General sought these records to investigate Airbnb’s role in potentially illegal hotels, and while Airbnb initially called the subpoena a “government sponsored fishing investigation,” they were able to settle on providing Mr. Schneiderman’s office with an anonymized version of the records in late May.

Currently, Airbnb would not be allowed a formal role as a lodging accommodations provider in Brooklyn’s bid for the 2016 convention due to existing regulations which make subletting an entire apartment illegal and in violation of the REBNY lease. Mr. Schneiderman, alongside other Democratic city officials like State Senator Liz Krueger and City Council member Ben Kallos, have taken issue Airbnb as an operator of illegal hotels and perpetuator of the New York City housing crisis. However, this November 4th, the political landscape may change in Airbnb’s favor.

Attorney General hopeful John Cahill told the New York Observer in July that he supports Airbnb, and hopes to change regulation to allow for its legality if elected. Mr. Cahill, a Republican, also encouraged the growth of Uber in New York. The Republican party as a whole has recently come out in support of Uber. Current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been against both Uber and Airbnb, though more harshly and specifically Airbnb.

For now, Airbnb has made their position known: they are here to help Brooklyn win the DNC bid, if regulations will allow it. On the line is millions in economic impact. In 2012, Charlotte, North Carolina was overrun with 35,000 members of the Democratic party, media and voters. The event became the largest in their history, creating a whooping $163.6 million in economic impact for the city. The rent of the Bank of America stadium alone was $896,000, which is nothing compared to the 2008 Convention rent of Denver’s Invesco Field for $2.3 million. DNC officials will decide on the location in late 2014 or early 2015, after the New York Attorney General election.

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