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Tampa Bay area hotels prepare while awaiting more details about RNC

The Republican National Convention, from Aug. 27-30, is expected to be the biggest event in the Tampa Bay area in years, and hotels are gearing up for business. Downtown Tampa will be ground zero for a host of convention activities.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2011)

The Republican National Convention, from Aug. 27-30, is expected to be the biggest event in the Tampa Bay area in years, and hotels are gearing up for business. Downtown Tampa will be ground zero for a host of convention activities.

Here's what hotel executives know about the week of the Republican National Convention: All or most of their rooms have been booked, the delegates won't return from meetings until late at night and security may be an issue.

But they don't know exactly how many people will actually check in or what the final convention schedule is, making it difficult to make specific plans.

"We know we're going to be busy, and we're prepared for that," said Russell Bond, general manager at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort. "We're just waiting for the details."

Stephen Cummings, general manager of the Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach, said the hotel will be extending restaurant and bar hours, offering food and drink specials and extending the breakfast service later into the morning.

But because he doesn't know yet which political bigwigs will be staying there for the convention, Cummings can't predict what he will need to do to provide adequate security.

The hotel's 18-member security team will be working longer hours throughout the week of the convention, Cummings said. That's as far as he's been able to plan ahead.

"Obviously, we have a high-profile group, and we will be going to a briefing on July 18," Cummings said. "Security will obviously be a topic of discussion."

Security is also a big concern at the Embassy Suites Tampa downtown, said general manager Jeff Weinthaler. Because the hotel, which is hosting the delegation from Michigan, is so close to the convention's base at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, it is in the maximum security zone during the Aug. 27-30 convention.

All employees have to be background-checked and everyone needs a special parking permit. That makes it tricky if he needs to bring in extra employees from sister hotels in Orlando, or if he needs to order more food and drinks for guests.

"It's going to be a little stickier for us," he said.

He is even considering renting a refrigeration truck for the week to store extra food in case of delayed deliveries or a power outage.

Beyond security, the Embassy is considering expanding room service to 24 hours for the week, and keeping its Starbucks open for 24 hours as well.

Pam Avery, general manager at the Wyndham Tampa Westshore said the hotel will likely extend its bar hours, but won't be doing anything extra as far as security is concerned.

"It will be normal stuff, nothing we don't do every single day," she said.

Security won't be such a big issue at the TradeWinds Island Resort on St. Pete Beach, which is hosting the delegates from California, either.

Hotel president Keith Overton said a police officer may be stationed at the hotel while the delegates are actually at the hotel, but that isn't unusual for large events at the resort.

Overton's main concern is that the RNC won't actually use the 715 rooms reserved for it.

He admitted that the 800-room resort doesn't have that kind of occupancy in August anyway, but he's still worried that the hotel won't have the time to re-sell the rooms the delegates don't take.

"It's our biggest concern, frankly," Overton said.

The TradeWinds already plans on providing sandwiches and buffet-style meals late at night so the guests can eat when they return from meetings.

Jim Bartholomay, general manager of the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza, which is hosting a large group of GOP donors, said he is planning to do the same. He anticipates that the staff may have to work later hours.

"We know the whole convention is p.m.-focused, so most everything gets done at 10 or 11 at night, and depending on traffic, people might not be getting back to the hotels until midnight, 1 a.m.," Bartholomay said.

The Renaissance will likely extend restaurant hours for the week, and already offers 24-hour room service.

Other hotels in the area are spending money on new decor and hiring additional staff for the week.

The Holiday Inn at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, which is hosting the delegates from Colorado and New Mexico, is training new servers and bartenders for the convention.

The Sirata Beach Resort spent more than $1 million on a new roof and new furniture, in addition to bulking up its staff for the convention week and renting a 20-foot Jumbotron for nighttime convention viewing parties.

The nearby Postcard Inn, which is hosting delegates from Alaska, will have a concert on the beach. There also will be concerts on the pool deck, paddleboarding, beach volleyball, and cabanas.

Weinthaler said the Embassy Suites wants to do a large champagne toast to welcome all the delegates when they arrive.

"We really want to make sure that Tampa puts on a great show not just for the delegation but for all the world when they're watching us," he said.

Information from Times files was used in this report.

Tampa Bay area hotels prepare while awaiting more details about RNC 07/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 9:57pm]
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