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Group: conference to bring $3.5M to RI capital

By Laura Crimaldi
Associated Press / June 6, 2012
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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—An estimated $3.5 million will be pumped into the local economy over several days as thousands of liberal political activists and journalists gather in Providence for the national Netroots Nation conference.

The Netroots Nation conference is scheduled to begin on Thursday at the Rhode Island Convention Center in downtown Providence and will feature addresses from Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and activist Van Jones.

Organizers are expecting 2,700 to 3,000 attendees, surpassing the 2,600 people who registered to attend last year's conference in Minneapolis, Minn., said Netroots Nation spokeswoman Mary Rickles.

The conference draws liberal political activists and journalists and is taking place during a presidential election year. Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren is slated to speak to the convention.

"We plan to make sure that Providence shines this weekend," said Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who also is scheduled to speak.

The conference will inject $3.5 million into the economy, said Martha Sheridan, president and chief executive officer of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Conference planners have contracted 2,200 hotel room nights at two city hotels, Sheridan said. Several hundred more rooms at other Providence hotels are also expected to be used, she said.

"This group is on the larger side for us," Sheridan said.

By comparison, an energy training workshop and trade show for federal agencies drew 4,000 attendees to Providence in 2009, according to figures provided by Sheridan. Past gatherings in Providence of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers drew 2,500 attendees each, she said.

Two other conventions that are coming up are drawing between 1,000 and 1,500 visitors, but organizers for both events contracted for more hotel room nights than the Netroots Nation conference, according to Sheridan's figures.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who went to Minneapolis last year to announce that the conference was headed to Providence, said he's hoping the city will get a boost on the Internet from conference attendees, many of whom are bloggers.

"This is a good economic occasion for our state to have an audience that amplifies itself so loudly through the Internet," Whitehouse said.

Sheridan also said Netroots Nation attendees are considered a "higher end" spending group because of the number of hotel rooms being used and because of the number of events planned outside of the convention center.

"This is a very social conference," Rickles said.

The outside events include a full display of the city's WaterFire installation, a block party hosted by Whitehouse and Taveras and a 10th anniversary celebration of the Democratic blog, Daily Kos.

Taveras said he hopes the conference will help the city attract other conventions.

Members of Occupy Providence plan to protest outside the convention center during the conference. Occupy Providence expects members of other groups associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement to attend, said Jared Paul, an Occupy Providence organizer.

Occupy Providence says it is staging a four-day "sidewalk occupation," where the group plans to protest a $75 million loan guarantee granted by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. to a video game company owned by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. The company laid off its entire staff last month.

Netroots Nation organizers had considered having the annual conference in Providence two years ago, but decided against it because of a labor dispute involving workers and management at the Westin Providence hotel, where some attendees are planning to stay, Rickles said. Providence was reconsidered as a possible site after that dispute was settled, she said.

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