Sunday, May 20, 2018
Business

Both sides of Tampa Bay preparing for Republican convention's economic impact

TAMPA — Bob Rohrlack Jr. remembers when Tampa Bay wasn't a region. It was a body of water.

"It was this side of the bay," he said, "and that side of the bay."

That was in the late 1980s. Never mind that the Gandy Bridge had linked St. Petersburg and Tampa since 1924, or that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been playing football (sort of) since 1976. Back then the region was divided by more than just water.

But the upcoming Republican National Convention has unified Tampa Bay's economic players like never before.

"There's been that spirit in the community," said Rohrlack, the president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. "It's like 'Holy cow. We caught a big fish. We need to reel it in.' "

They have no choice. The worst recession in 80 years has made the bay area's major players hungry to capitalize on Florida's first political convention in 40 years.

"When things are going great nobody needs anybody else," said Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce president Bob Clifford. "But now we're in a situation where you need to look around and see who you can partner with, how can you expand your economic development."

That's why the economic development agencies, the tourism boards and the chambers of commerce in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are so eager to come together and take advantage of the once-in-a-century marketing opportunity.

"This is our region's time to shine in front of the world," said Kelly Miller, president and CEO of Tampa Bay and Company, the tourism agency of Hillsborough County.

The convention will be like a weeklong Super Bowl when it convenes from Aug. 27-30 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in downtown Tampa. More than 50,000 visitors — including 15,000 members of the media — will flood the area.

Tens of millions more will watch at home. It's not just Tampa that could benefit from that exposure. If properly leveraged, the RNC could boost tourism, reverse the bay area's declining convention business and lure companies to relocate here, economic leaders believe.

"The fact is that when the world looks at an area they don't stop looking at the county or city lines, Miller said.

"Together, collectively, we tell a richer story and give a more compelling reason to invest and visit the area."

Miller unveiled one of those storytelling opportunities in a news conference Tuesday at Tampa International Airport: A coalition of economic development agencies purchased a 20-page special section touting the Tampa and Hillsborough area in Southwest Airline's Spirit magazine and US Airways Magazine. To celebrate their cooperation, the leaders and representatives of 14 Hillsborough economic agencies gathered to sip champagne and pose for photographs.

Southwest, Tampa International's biggest carrier, will make the magazine available on all its flights starting today. It is expected to reach 6 million readers this month.

The magazine spread was paid for from a $350,000 budget that Tampa Bay and Company is using to market the bay area during the RNC. Hillsborough County put up $250,000 of that and $100,000 came from Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing corporation.

More cooperative efforts are in the works. Those agencies are preparing to set up a social media command center for the RNC. It will be staffed by 50 people who will answer questions and push content out via Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TampaBay.

The coalition is also pitching stories about the bay area to national and international media, including the Washington Post and the magazines Southern Living and Travel + Leisure and will do the same for visiting media here. They're also planning a national media tour for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to tout the area.

But this improved cooperation is not just Hillsborough-centric. Leaders on both sides of the bay say they call and meet and plan with each other more and more, and not just for the RNC.

Clifford, the Clearwater chamber president, said his group is set to meet with the Tampa Bay Partnership, the Greater Tampa Chamber and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 15 to discuss their legislative priorities.

"When you're having discussions with your elected officials, when you're on the same page, it sends a consistent message about what the needs are in Tampa Bay," Clifford said.

Which isn't to say there aren't still animosities. The future home of the Tampa Bay Rays is a particularly thorny issue between the baseball team's contractual host, St. Petersburg, and potential suitor, Tampa. It didn't help that on Tuesday Hillsborough County issued a legal opinion advising the commission that they can talk to the team about its future home.

"We're not going to let our differences over the Rays interfere with this opportunity," said Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who requested the legal opinion. He spoke at Tuesday's airport news conference.

Miller said the important thing to keep in mind is that the convention may end on Aug. 30, but the area's opportunities will not. Tampa Bay needs to ask itself this:

"What is the next RNC, and how can we do it better?"

Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.

Comments
Camping without the hassle: New service rents you all the gear you need, plus the car

Camping without the hassle: New service rents you all the gear you need, plus the car

One day in April, I returned from a camping trip - a quick 24 out of the city - and ran a load of laundry. Whatís more telling is what I didnít do.I didnít hose down a muddy tent, I didnít soak a shoddily cleaned pot, and I categorically did not empt...
Published: 05/19/18
Romano: Save your money, sports betting wonít be in Florida anytime soon

Romano: Save your money, sports betting wonít be in Florida anytime soon

It is the middle of the day and the beginning of the off-season at Tampa Bay Downs. That means the action is limited to simulcast wagering, and that means the televisions outnumber the bettors.The parimutuel industry is long past its heyday in Americ...
Published: 05/19/18
Son of Crabby Billís founder leaves complex legacy of troubled projects and good deeds

Son of Crabby Billís founder leaves complex legacy of troubled projects and good deeds

SOUTH PASADENA ó Like his father, who founded the Crabby Billís seafood restaurant chain, John Loder Sr. had a larger-than-life personality. That was one reason he dived into the real estate business, becoming a well-known, if at times controversial ...
Published: 05/18/18
Updated: 05/19/18
Global Tampa Bay initiative seeks to grow direct foreign investment through expanded regional teamwork

Global Tampa Bay initiative seeks to grow direct foreign investment through expanded regional teamwork

TAMPA ó A decade ago, the Great Recession put Hillsborough and Pinellas countiesí efforts to grow their foreign exports on hold.But since then those efforts have returned, gained support and momentum, expanded the range of their ambition and are now ...
Published: 05/18/18
Florida unemployment holds at 3.9 percent, state adds 9,600 jobs

Florida unemployment holds at 3.9 percent, state adds 9,600 jobs

Floridaís economy appears to have plateaued with its unemployment rate holding at 3.9 percent for the seventh straight month, according to the April report released Friday.But some economists say it may be a good thing if the rate doesnít fall much m...
Published: 05/18/18
Lawsuit over Riverwalk Place tower in downtown Tampa settled

Lawsuit over Riverwalk Place tower in downtown Tampa settled

TAMPA ó A lawsuit over the mix of residences and offices in the planned $350 million Riverwalk Place tower has been dropped.Last August, Riverwalk Tower Investment-Intown LLC, which had been expected to be one of the developers in the project, filed ...
Published: 05/18/18
Orlandoís new attractions power jump in theme park attendance

Orlandoís new attractions power jump in theme park attendance

By MIKE SCHNEIDERORLANDO ó The arms race to build new theme park attractions in Orlando is paying dividends. A new report released this week shows theme park attendance at the largest parks in North America last year was up 2.3 percent, powered by ne...
Published: 05/18/18
How Mosaicís relocation could help Tampa International Airport land a flight to Brazil

How Mosaicís relocation could help Tampa International Airport land a flight to Brazil

Tampa International covets a nonstop flight to S„o Paulo, Brazil. Mosaic Co, which is moving its headquarters to Hillsborough County, has huge holdings in the country, including several mines. Could Mosaicís relocation help TIA realize its dream? It ...
Published: 05/18/18
Remember that upscale Guy Harvey RV resort near Tarpon Springs. Forget the Guy Harvey part

Remember that upscale Guy Harvey RV resort near Tarpon Springs. Forget the Guy Harvey part

HOLIDAY ó A year ago this month, Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts announced plans for its first-ever RV park, near Tarpon Springs where the Anclote River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.The $35 million resort, named after the popular Jamaican marine artist...
Published: 05/18/18
American Dream Miami to become largest mall in U.S. after final approval

American Dream Miami to become largest mall in U.S. after final approval

MIAMI ó A gigantic $4 billion retail and entertainment complex won government approval Thursday after years of debate, greenlighting what promises to be the largest mall in North America, just a few miles from the environmentally sensitive Everglades...
Published: 05/18/18