Starting today, there will be scores of men wearing box-shaped fezzes milling about downtown Tampa.
Members of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine — also known as Prince Hall Shriners — are in town for the group's 123rd Imperial Council Session. It is also the 105th meeting of the Shriner's women's auxiliary group, the Imperial Court.
The group brought an estimated 25,000 attendees during its last visit to Tampa in 2014 and the Shriners believe that number may climb as high as 30,000 on its return to Tampa this week.
Founded in Chicago, the organization bears the name of Prince Hall, a black abolitionist and Freemason.
Boasting more than 250 ''temples'' or chapters and 200 courts throughout the world, the 123-year-old fraternal organization's presence in the area will be significant, members say.
"We're talking about a major, major conference," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, who is a member of Hiram Temple No. 23, Tampa's chapter of the Prince Hall Shriners. "It's a huge economic impact."
Thanks to the Shriners and other large-scale gatherings — including Metrocon, Comic Con, the Florida Bar Examiners, the National Baptist Convention's Congress of Christian Education — that have visited the city this summer, Tampa is enjoying a bump in bed-tax dollars, according to Visit Tampa Bay, the region's tourism engine.
The numbers are significant: To date, Tampa has hosted six citywide conventions compared to four for 2015. The increase in meetings also means a jump in the number of hotel stays (63,000, compared with 24,000) and the number of attendees (72,000, compared with 17,700).
The economic impact doubled from $11 million to $22 million.
An aggressive marketing and sales strategy, and partnerships with hotels and city and county entities have led to a "great summer," said Santiago Corrada, Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO.
There's no sign of a slowdown. Bed-tax collections have increased 35 percent over the past three years, which is "pretty remarkable growth," he said.
The key is getting the attention of large groups like the Shriners and selling them on Tampa, Corrada said. "We don't know what the future holds, so if we can lock them in for future conventions, that's great," he said.
The Shriners' presence in Tampa this week marks the group's third visit in five years — a sign that the city is a good fit for the group, said Imperial Potentate Rochelle Julian, the organization's leader.
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