Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Hillsborough County to close downtown Tampa offices during the Republican National Convention

TAMPA — Dodging protesters, searching for parking spots and getting through security are no longer concerns for those planning to use county services during the Republican National Convention in August.

The Fred B. Karl County Center will be closed for two weeks, beginning Aug. 20 and reopening after Labor Day.

Though the downtown offices will be closed, the services will still be available at other county offices, said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

"The idea is that, given the location of the County Center being adjacent to a secured zone for the Republican National Convention, I decided I didn't want to take a chance with people's safety," Merrill said.

Concerns about streets being blocked off and fences possibly being erected around the courthouse and the County Center to keep people such as rock-throwing vandals away fueled talk of closing some downtown government offices.

Every department housed in the building on Kennedy Boulevard will be relocated for the two-week period, Merrill said. The offices include those of the property appraiser, the tax collector, public works and more. About 1,000 employees will be affected.

"People need to know this is not a service disruption," Merrill said. "The offices are just being moved." More details on exact locations will be provided closer to the convention, he said.

The Hillsborough tax collector and the property appraiser have been planning to close their downtown operations during the convention for months.

"Our County Center is made of glass," said tax collector Doug Belden. "It's a no-brainer."

Staffers will be shifted to suburban branches or other centers. Some may work from home.

"Fortunately, we have the ability to get away from downtown and service the public as usual, and there will be no risk to the public or my employees," Belden said.

Tampa officials recently said they've made no decisions to close any city buildings downtown. The Hillsborough County courthouse plans to remain open, though trials won't be scheduled during the week of the Aug. 27-30 convention.

Up to 15,000 demonstrators are expected for the convention. Many could come for an Aug. 27 march organized by more than two dozen protest groups, including organized labor, student radicals and antiwar protesters.

But while police say only a tiny number of them are likely to try to damage buildings or disrupt the event, even a peaceful convention promises unprecedented traffic jams.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.

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