Enterprising property owners hope to jump on the money train they see rolling toward Tampa Bay by offering apartment and condo rentals for the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Nightly and weekly rentals are now being advertised online, targeting 50,000 delegates, dignitaries and journalists who will invade downtown Tampa as the event begins on Aug. 27, 2012.
Some property owners will hit it big.
Oprah Winfrey spent $50,000 a week for a home in Denver during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Out-of-town corporate sponsors and wealthy donors often pay thousands per night to rent large waterfront homes and mansions for parties and events.
But if the past is any guide, many owners seeking quick profits will be disappointed. Denver residents were dismayed when visitors arriving for the Democratic convention stayed with friends or doubled up in hotel rooms.
"A lot of people thought they would earn their annual income in four days," said Rich Grant, communications director with Visit Denver, the city's tourism bureau. "It happened for some but not a lot. The expectations get out of whack very fast."
For the upcoming Republican convention, Marvin Meeks, an agent with Urban Living TampaBay, has already fielded calls from across the country from people seeking furnished, short-term rentals near downtown Tampa.
But many condo owners will have trouble cashing in because most condominium homeowners associations prohibit rentals for less than seven months. Meeks expects some residents to ignore the rules to make a buck.
"Some homeowners will slip through the cracks," he said.
And demand for housing associated with the biggest political event ever to hit the bay area will be enormous. Hotels within 35 minutes of downtown Tampa will be filled. The GOP has about 15,000 hotel rooms booked for four nights.
The same was true for the 2008 GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Then, hundreds of home rentals were listed online with prices ranging from $500 for a room in a home to $20,000 for a five-bedroom house.
The Denver craigslist listed more than 7,000 homes for rent, with prices starting at $750 a night for a one-bedroom to $100,000 for a house for the week. In the end, many homeowners dropped prices.
Thirteen months before the 2012 event, the Tampa craigslist already has two convention-related listings.
A luxury unit in the Park Crest Condos on Harbour Island carries a price tag of $1,000 a night. The two-bedroom unit is within walking distance of the St. Pete Times Forum, the site of the convention.
A South Tampa condo in the Grand Key complex is cheaper: $1,195 a month. But furniture is $400 more; with all utilities included, it's $1,895 a month.
Prospective renters proceed at their own risk. The Republican Party has no connection to any private housing being offered.
"Basically, we stay out of it," said Mike Miller, chief operating officer of the GOP's Committee on Arrangements. "It's a free market out there."
Some companies and media outlets will send advance groups to the bay area several months before the convention. They'll also spend weeks here after the event.
That bodes well for companies offering corporate rentals.
Tampa Bay has a supply of about 1,200 units for corporate rentals, where leases start at 30 days. Some firms require a minimum of 90 days. The occupancy rates are always about 95 percent.
Dan Gorman of Avenida Suites in Tampa manages more than 200 corporate units. There was a flurry of interest for private rentals before the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, but it fizzled, he said.
He has received calls from corporations seeking rentals for one to two weeks for the convention. The groups, he said, will have a hard time finding private residences for short stays.
"Anything less than 30 days we stay away from," he said.
Still, opportunities exist for property owners willing to gamble.
Larry Chatt of Island Realty on Anna Maria Island sees a chance to fill some of the 200 homes and condos he manages an hour from downtown Tampa. He advertises properties online for the convention week, ranging from one-bedroom condos to eight-bedroom homes.
He hasn't taken a convention-related booking, but he expects inquiries after the busy summer season. He hopes the allure of beachfront property will prompt visitors to extend trips into vacations.
"Many folks might not want the hubbub of Tampa and St. Pete," Chatt said. "This is a unique opportunity for the area."
Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report, which also includes information from Times wires. Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markapuente.