TAMPA — City officials played a little RNC bingo Friday morning, and the Service Employees International Union came up the winner.
Using a rotating bingo cage and a set of balls borrowed from the David Barksdale Senior Citizen Center, officials held a lottery to determine the pecking order for protest groups wanting to use city parks during the Republican National Convention.
An intern from the City Attorney's Office turned the cage, City Hall's television channel carried the proceedings live and Assistant City Attorney Mauricio Rodriguez served as the morning's game show host.
"B-3," Rodriguez announced, making the SEIU the winner from among the five groups that had applied to hold an event at Lykes Gaslight Square Park on Aug. 27, the first day of the convention. The union, based in Washington, D.C., expects 1,000 people at its all-day rally.
Tampa officials had consulted with their counterparts in Denver and St. Paul, Minn., the site of the national political conventions four years ago, on how to settle potential conflicts between groups that wanted the same parks on the same days.
"The city really wanted to make our permitting system as bias-free, as random as possible," Rodriguez said. "That way every group was given equal opportunity to have access to our parks during the week of the RNC."
The first alternate for the Lykes Gaslight Square on that day was the Coalition to March on the RNC (ball G-55).
The coalition has labor backing, raising the possibility that it and the SEIU might join forces to hold a single event.
That, one city official hoped, might make both groups happy. On the other hand, the coalition expects to draw 5,000 participants, and the maximum capacity for Lykes Gaslight Square is 4,642 people.
The second alternate for Lykes was Morning in America (ball B-9), the project created by a pair of artists from Brooklyn who plan to carve a 20-foot-long block of ice into the words, "Middle class," and then let them melt in the summer sun.
Also decided Friday: Morning in America will get priority for MacDill Park on Aug. 27. (Several groups applied for several parks.) Pray Tampa Bay (ball B-4) ended up with a choice between two parks, Washington Street Park and Herman Massey Park, for its nonpartisan prayer vigil on Aug 27.
The city is making 11 parks available for permitted events during the convention and is holding Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park for spontaneously organized gatherings.
Some of the bigger parks on the list, Macfarlane Park (30 acres), Picnic Island Park (96 acres) and Al Lopez Park (132 acres), are outside the downtown Event Zone that the city created around the convention.
Friday's lottery does not close the opportunity for protesters to use city parks. Tampa officials plan to continue accepting applications on a first-come, first-served basis as long as they have open slots at the parks. Groups with fewer than 50 people do not need a permit to use a park.
City officials also are reserving times for groups to march on an official parade route that has not been announced yet.
And the city will create a protest area — officially known as the "public viewing area" — within sight and sound of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the site of the convention, that will be open to all, no reservations required, around the clock during the RNC.
Still, a mere 10 groups had applied to hold about 30 events during the Aug. 27-30 convention.
"We were very surprised and a little underwhelmed by the number of responses, but we still expect many protesters to come and maybe take advantage of our public viewing area or protest on our sidewalks or at other city property where a permit's not required," Rodriguez said.
Winners of the lottery will receive a letter and an email from the city giving them until June 29 to accept or reject the park that's offered to them.
If they accept, they'll have to accept a site plan so that city officials can ensure that any temporary structures or tents are safe and up to hurricane standards.
The RNC park event permits will be non-exclusive, meaning that members of the public will be allowed to come to the park during a permitted rally or demonstration as long as they don't disrupt the event.
The public will not have the same access to other parks, notably Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, during private events held by the RNC.
Under the terms of its contract with the city, the convention has first dibs on Curtis Hixon and several other downtown parks for social events during the convention.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.