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Safety Harbor to roll out red carpet for Tennessee delegates during RNC

City officials and volunteers have stuffed welcome bags for the Tennessee delegates.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

City officials and volunteers have stuffed welcome bags for the Tennessee delegates.

SAFETY HARBOR — This city wants to show delegates to the Republican National Convention a good time — not only so the visitors will enjoy their week in the bayside community, but also so they will come back someday.

During the convention in Tampa next week, nearly 250 delegates from Tennessee will be staying at the historic Safety Harbor Resort & Spa.

So the city will temporarily give Main Street a new name: Tennessee Street.

A proclamation in honor of the Volunteer State will be read. Welcome banners will be hoisted. And there will be live music at the downtown gazebo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

But part of their focus is on what happens once the delegation leaves the Tampa Bay area.

"There are going to be some 250 Tennessee delegates who may have never stepped foot in Safety Harbor," City Manager Matthew Spoor said. "When they get back to Tennessee, we want them to tell all their friends and family about our city. We want repeat customers. We want the city to shine. We are the jewel of Tampa Bay and we want to show that off."

The mayor plans to hand the delegation a symbolic key to the city. In welcome bags waiting in delegates' hotel rooms, the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce will include a pin in the shape of a key. Delegates sporting the pin will receive specials from about 25 participating Main Street merchants, said chamber board chair Marie Padavich.

When it came to matching up state delegations to hotel locations, Padavich said, Safety Harbor came out a winner.

"We are thrilled to have Tennessee," Padavich said, in part because they hail from the eastern half of the United States, so "it would be a natural for them to come back and visit us once the convention is over."

Some businesses are looking for ways to capitalize on the delegates' presence. For example, during the convention week, wine bar and beer garden Tapping the Vine will open Sunday and Monday — days when the business is usually closed, said owner Howard Latham.

"Hopefully," he said, "that investment will be worthwhile."

According to RNC officials, more than 45,000 people will be in the Tampa Bay area, and an estimated $175 million will be spent. But the Tennessee delegation also plans to give back.

"We are in some way looking to help the local community," said Chris Devaney, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party.

While plans have not been firmed up, the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center has been identified as the likely recipient of that kindness. The center is a community resource for people in need.

It's unclear how much additional traffic Safety Harbor could see during the week. Much of the delegates' time will be spent at the convention in downtown Tampa during the evenings.

Still, more than a week ahead of the RNC, a Republican stirred up activity outside the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. A few peaceful protesters showed up last Wednesday outside a chamber luncheon featuring U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Times staff writer Stephanie Wang contributed to this story.

Safety Harbor to roll out red carpet for Tennessee delegates during RNC 08/23/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012 7:57pm]
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