TAMPA — As the crowd walked in and found some seats Wednesday morning, the Stageworks Theatre was dark enough to make for a little drama when the lights came up.
But instead of a theatrical production, what the audience saw was a television studio custom-built to host live broadcasts during the Republican National Convention.
"We have a unique opportunity coming to this region in August," said Vinny Dolan, the chief executive officer of Progress Energy Florida and the chairman of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership. "It's part of what we really think is a broader opportunity to market Tampa Bay."
To make the most of that opportunity, the partnership will launch Front Row Tampa Bay, a four-hour broadcast on each of the four days of the convention.
It will be a live show, albeit with some prerecorded segments, that will be broadcast online from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the convention.
And it will be a real show, with three sets, seven cameras and a production crew of 30 to 35. Former WTVT-Ch. 13 news veterans Frank Robertson and Kathy Fountain will be the on-camera talent.
To succeed, the project needs three things — content, sponsorships and audience — partnership president Stuart Rogel said.
During Wednesday's preview, the ideas for content were there, with guests talking up everything from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute to economic development opportunities in Manatee County.
Organizers expect the programming to focus on four parts of the region's economy — health care and medicine; technology, innovation and electronics; business, financial and data services; and marine and environmental sciences — plus the beaches and attributes that make up the Florida experience. The partnership hopes the online content created during the convention will have a "long tail," attracting interest in the Tampa Bay area for months and even years to come.
Political strategist Adam Goodman, the co-creator of Front Row Tampa Bay, said the show also will include some fun, with scenes from late-night convention parties and events edited overnight for a "Top of the Day" feature.
To pay for the project, the partnership needs to raise at least $400,000 in private donations.
So far, Rogel said, it has solid commitments for about half of that, feels good about another $100,000 in prospects and is working to raise the rest.
Finally, Rogel said the project needs viewers.
He encouraged the Stageworks crowd, which largely consisted of local business people, to share lists of contacts with the project and help build interest through word-of-mouth and social media.
"We think we will have 30,000 to 50,000 people watching before it's all said and done," he said.
After the event, he said, "the audience is critical. We're working just as hard building that audience as anything else."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.