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GOP convention already bringing business to Tampa Bay area

Bay area businesses are already beginning to reap the rewards of a national convention coming to town as out-of-state clients look for strategists, limousine drivers, party planners and other services.

Political 'sherpas'

Many think of a national party convention in terms of the prime-time activity within the convention hall — fiery speeches delivered to a sea of raucous red-, white- and blue-clad delegates in goofy hats. In fact, the scripted goings-on are just a small slice of the convention experience. For most attendees, the real action takes place at the brunches, lunches, cocktail hours, galas and soirees where convention-goers get to rub shoulders with lawmakers and hobnob with VIPs. GOP consultants Adam Goodman and Renee Dabbs understand the business opportunity implicit in that fact.

The Hyde Park bungalow that houses their political strategy firm is just a mile from where all the action will be when 45,000-plus Republicans descend on Tampa next August. That proximity — as well as their political savvy and local connections — made them the perfect Tampa-based partners for GOP Convention Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that provides strategic planning for clients attending the Republican National Convention.

"We see our job during this four-day event as sherpas, armed with an insider's perspective on what's hot and what's not, where to go and what to do and how to navigate through the political maze that's never spelled out in the official program," says Dabbs, who has been meeting with groups from around the country, taking them on tours of the city and scouting out potential venues for events.

GOP Convention Strategies offers an array of services to client attendees, including event planning, production assistance and setting up lodging, transportation, security and staffing. The firm also helps with convention budgeting and can handle event fundraising.

Goodman — who has worked for former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, former Gov. Jeb Bush and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others — says that in addition to helping his clients "navigate the process," he hopes to serve as a "matchmaker" for groups and organizations.

A delegation from one state, for example, may want to host a cocktail event for 350 people, but Goodman says it can just as easily pool its financial resources with another group and throw a party for 1,000 people featuring a name-brand rock band.

'Corporate theater'

Over the past 17 years, Howard Spector has produced events for clients ranging from Burger King to Coca-Cola. His brand of "corporate theater," as he calls it, has landed him several contracts producing annual events and galas for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which ultimately led him into the niche of producing special events for political conventions. Spector's firm, Ashley Events, produced more than 70 events at each of the party's five-day conventions in 2004 and 2008.

Spector's already gearing up for 2012 in Tampa. He recently relocated his business from Washington to Safety Harbor, and he's been scouting out venues and conducting food tastings for client events.

"Everyone in town is going to benefit from this," Spector says, "every car service, every hotel, every catering company. I mean, there are so many tentacles, so many moving parts that make up a convention of this magnitude that everyone can benefit."

Steering committee

The convention's still almost a year away, but Ken Lucci, CEO and owner of Ambassador Limousines in Clearwater, is already reaping the rewards. Lucci has landed a $528,000 contract to provide ground transportation, security and logistical support for a major corporate sponsor. The same client also has hired his company to provide those services a week later at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., for another $528,000.

Lucci says he is also negotiating with two major media organizations that will need transportation to cover the convention, six event/meeting planners who represent another 20 to 25 clients attending the convention and several others.

He has already made leasing arrangements to boost his fleet of 54 vehicles up to about 75 and plans to start advertising for additional drivers to hire after the first of the year, with training to start in the spring.

The convention couldn't come at a better time of year for Lucci, who notes that his company normally operates at about 50 percent capacity in the August off-season.

No price gouging

Tampa Bay hoteliers should also see an off-season upswing.

"We're expecting to sell out every day over the convention," says Jeff Weinthaler, general manager of the Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Tampa.

With heightened demand, room prices will get bumped up a bit, Weinthaler says, but convention-goers should not be worried about price gouging. Under their contracts with the RNC, hotels are allowed to raise their room rates "a little bit up" while still trying to be "fair."

This article originally appeared in the October issue of Florida Trend magazine (FloridaTrend.com).

The numbers

45,000 to 50,000

Projected number of visitors

15,000

Members of the media expected

$175 million to $200 million

Projected economic boost to the Tampa Bay region

$400

Amount per day that the average convention-goer is expected to spend

75

Number of event venues already under contract

15,000

Number of hotel rooms reserved under the name Ken Jones, president of the host committee

$55 million

Federal government's share of convention-related security costs

7,500

Number of volunteers

$18,000 to $34,000

Cost of broadcast suites at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul

350

Number of charter buses that will be used during the convention week

GOP convention already bringing business to Tampa Bay area 10/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2011 7:54pm]
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