Downtown businesses struggling from COVID-19 see RNC in Jacksonville as a relief

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville was chosen as the host city for the Republican National Convention.

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From local hotels blocking off the week of the convention to top RNC leadership being spotted at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, to the newest addition to the list a filing made to the Florida’s Division of Corporations shows paperwork for a nonprofit called 2020 Jacksonville Host Committee were signs pointing to Jacksonville for the GOP’s main event.

Super Food & Brew on East Forsyth Street has been hit hard by the pandemic.

“We’ve been scaling back as far as people coming to work so I know other restaurants are suffering just like we are,” said general manager Al Penttila.

Hotels have also been hit hard.

The hospitality industry was arguably the hardest hit industry when COVID-19 concerns began forcing restrictions nationwide.

It’s why talks of the RNC coming to Jacksonville, gives Penttila some hope.

“It’s a great opportunity for Jacksonville,” he said.

The members for the newly formed 2020 Jacksonville Host Committee include the heads of the Jax Chamber and Visit Jacksonville plus a Florida congressman.

“Having a boost to get folks in restaurants and our hotels would be great for our local small businesses,” said Nicole Chapman, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association’s Northeast Regional Director.

But COVID-19 is still very much a concern.

Penttila said getting ready for so many people all at once is a challenge but it’s one he’s willing to accept.

“We would have to get prepared for it as far as staff, as far as product, because no we’re not used to handling that many people, but we’d be more than happy to take care of them,” said Penttila.

According to Action News Jax medical expert Dr. Michelle Aquino of Baptist, if the RNC decides to host a portion of its event in Jacksonville safety measures such as masks and social distancing should be required. She also said the venue should have hand sanitization stations available throughout.

“The transmission rate has been slowly increasing the last few days, but it hasn’t taken a huge jump like in New York,” said Dr. Aquino. “I would hate for our numbers to be doing fairly well over the next month or two and then we have this huge convention here and then we see a high jump in numbers.”