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GulfShore Bank will become police outpost during the Republican National Convention

TAMPA

Few places will be more secure during the Republican National Convention than the downtown office of tiny GulfShore Bank.

Officials at the bank, located inside the "security zone" enveloping the Tampa Bay Times Forum, have known for months the office would close during the convention.

But instead of simply locking the doors for a week, the bank volunteered to become an outpost for Tampa police and federal agents.

For those on guard in the August heat, including agents with Homeland Security and the Secret Service, the bank will be sanctuary. Officers in riot gear will get to rest between the cubicles, sip water in air-conditioned comfort and use the bank's private bathrooms.

The 5-year-old bank will not charge rent. But GulfShore officials think they will get a security presence nearby storefronts couldn't buy.

That could save the facility, one of the bank's two branches, from worst-case fears of glass-shattering riots — or so bank officials hope.

"If all goes well, it'll be a great idea," bank client manager Barbara Curts said. "If this town blows up, everybody will say, 'What the hell were you thinking?' "

GulfShore officials left it up to law enforcement on how best to use the office. Bank leaders said they could outfit it for medical triage or unfold cots for an overnight bunker.

Instead, Curts said, police have suggested they could use it as an established resting point for officers on Florida Avenue, within walking distance of the Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center.

Later this month, crews will lay special phone and Internet lines to the bank, allowing agents private communication. They'll plan to use a bank storage room as a makeshift meal canteen.

The bank's vault won't be used, but the branch could offer a few special features a mobile command trailer might lack. The bank's nearby parking lot could store cruisers or patrol vehicles. At night, agents could covertly watch the city from behind the bank's tinted glass.

The downtown branch's two dozen employees will work remotely or from the bank's second office on MacDill Avenue. Some took vacation time. None will lose out on a paycheck.

Tampa police are considering several downtown storefronts as garrisons, but a spokeswoman wouldn't say where or what police would bring for equipment.

GulfShore leaders said the security force had already pledged to bring one important provision: toilet paper.

Bank president and CEO Joe Caballero said, "I think they felt bad about using our bathroom supplies."

Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 893-8252 or dharwell@tampabay.com.

GulfShore Bank will become police outpost during the Republican National Convention 08/04/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 4, 2012 5:32am]

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