CNN to turn space inside Tampa's South Regional Parking Garage into its CNN Grill for RNC coverage
CNN plans to transform the first floor of the parking structure alongside the Tampa Bay Times Forum into its CNN Grill, a restaurant/bar/TV studio featuring its morning shows, special reports and a midnight telecast by Piers Morgan during the Republican National Convention.
The grill area, located inside the 1,450-space building officially known as the South Regional Garage, won't be where cars have been parked. A CNN spokeswoman says they'll use a storage area with windows looking out onto the plaza leading into the Forum.
"We looked at a lot of locations around the Tampa Bay Times Forum; literally, you have to pass the CNN Grill to get inside the forum," said Sam Feist, Washington D.C. bureau chief for CNN. "We really want to be as close as we can to the convention floor; it makes it an easy stopping place for the delegates as they come out of the convention or as they're going in...it will be both a place to eat and drink and a fully equipped broadcast center."
The cable channel has brought its CNN Grill concept to the political conventions since 2004; but in previous cases, they have taken over an existing eatery, added some CNN signage and converted the menu. That's what will happen in Charlotte, N.C. next month, when CNN takes over a Mexican cantina restaurant for its coverage of the Democratic party convention.
But in Tampa, CNN will build its grill from the ground up, converting an empty space into a home for its morning programs Early Start and Starting Point, as well as a midnight show featuring Morgan doing longform interviews and talks with political experts on the evening after each night of the convention.
New York restaurateur Danny Meyers' Union Square Hospitality Group will provide the food, and there will likely be more TV monitors and neon packed into the place than all but the biggest sports bars could contain.
"We will use the grill to spend time with Florida voters," Feist said. "We're going to bring in a group of undecided voters that we'll be visiting with throughout the week. At the end of the day, the political convention is really for the party faithful, but the people who decide this election will be undecided voters from a handful of states like Florida."
In the end, CNN hopes to turn its space into a hip hangout for notables at the convention; Feist still recalls fondly seeing then-presidential candidate John McCain's senior strategist Mark Salter - a guy known for blaming press bias for McCain's defeat in 2008 -- turn the CNN Grill into his hangout at the last RNC convention.
"In the middle of a campaign, the guy who is running the Republican nominee's campaign is a rock star," Feist said. "The delegates at that convention would have much rather spent time talking to Mark Salter than any Hollywood star, and you saw him every night...It's funny during a convention who the celebrities are."