TAMPA — Nude dance club owner Joe Redner is telling Occupy Tampa to clear out of his private park in West Tampa by Sept. 15.
Redner on Thursday told the Tampa City Council — scheduled to hear an Aug. 16 report on the encampment from police and other officials — that it need not waste its time worrying about his property, known as Voice of Freedom Park.
Occupy Tampa would be able to stay at the park through the Aug. 27-30 Republican National Convention, and Redner said he expected some protesters to sleep there. He said that would be good, because they wouldn't be sleeping closer to downtown.
In a notice to members of Occupy Tampa, Redner says, "I hope you can find a suitable place where you can operate Occupy Tampa and try to help our country find its place by helping everyone find their way and live a quality life."
Redner said he decided to evict Occupy Tampa because the encampment is "causing a lot of consternation in the neighborhood," which has circulated a petition against its presence at 2101 W Main St. He also said he read a report suggesting that crime had gone up in the area since Occupy Tampa had moved in.
Police calls in and around the park have doubled from 210 to 425 over six months once Occupy Tampa moved there, Capt. Charles Courtoy told the council July 19.
Redner said he doesn't anticipate resistance from Occupy Tampa campers. Occupy Tampa has no lease or contract with him. If anyone refused to leave, he said it would be a matter of trespassing and, if the person returned, he or she would be arrested.
But Redner doesn't think it will come to that. He said he's talked to community organizer Kelly Benjamin, who originally called him about letting Occupy Tampa stay on the property, and said Benjamin doesn't expect a problem with people leaving.
Besides, Redner said, virtually no one was at the camp on Wednesday when he went to hand out eviction notices.
"I went down there to get somebody to sign it, and there was nobody to sign it," he said.
Thursday afternoon, the camp included eight or nine tents and a handful of young men, most of whom did not want to talk to a reporter.
Activist Nathan Pim, 27, sat with his laptop under one of the parks' crape myrtles waiting to talk to anyone who needed advice on avoiding foreclosure. Pim wasn't necessarily surprised at Redner's news, saying that people in Occupy Tampa had already talked about finding a new meeting place.
"Hopefully, Occupy Tampa can still be involved with solutions and finding ways to be involved with homeless problems," he said.
Mark Buckley, 57, who brought a secondhand school bus to the site to provide storage space and a place for meetings, said it has been hard to maintain the critical mass of activists needed to keep the camp going.
"It's a tough life out here — no air-conditioning, the rain and the streets," Buckley said. "But we're doing what we can for our country. Washington's troops had it a lot tougher."
Despite Redner's announcement, City Council member Frank Reddick said he wants to proceed with the Aug. 16 discussion on what, if anything, the city can do about Occupy Tampa's presence on Main Street.
Redner should clear out the park before the RNC and spare the neighborhood the prospect of crowds, said Reddick, whose council district includes that part of West Tampa. (Pim said the group Food Not Bombs planned activities at the park the week before the convention, and estimated hundreds might take part.)
"If Mr. Redner was sincere in what he wanted to do, he wouldn't put that burden and hardship on the residents of the community," Reddick said.
In other business related to the RNC, the council approved two special events and three expenditures to be covered by the city's $50 million grant for security:
• A little more than $1 million will go to catering to feed the 3,000 to 4,000 law enforcement officers working the week of the convention. The city requested local restaurants and caterers to go through a pre-qualification process this spring, then requested bids in July. Eighteen companies bid, but the Police Department is not identifying the companies because that could give someone with ill will the opportunity to tamper with officers' food, police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor said.
• $219,000 will reimburse the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority for tolls lost as a result of the Secret Service's decision to close the expressway from 50th Street to Willow Avenue starting 12:30 a.m. Aug. 27 to 5 a.m. Aug. 31.
• $16,500 will go to the Florida State Fair Authority for use of some fairgrounds property as a logistics hub during the week of the convention.
• Approved the request of CSX to create a rail village along N Meridian Avenue from Aug. 25-30. CSX expects up to 300 people at any given time while the convention is in session and up to 400 Aug. 28, when it will host a party for the Florida delegation. Only invited guests will be admitted, and the village will be surrounded by an 8-foot fence.
• Approved the request of a well-connected Washington-area party planner to bring a series of convention-week warehouse parties to the old Kress and Woolworth buildings, south of Cass Street, between Franklin Street and Florida Avenue.
In her applications, Joyce Gates of Alexandria, Va.-based Warehouse Productions, said she was looking to host private parties for 600 to 800 people. Gates, who served as chief of staff to John Boehner before he became speaker of the House, is known in GOP circles for putting on lavish, hot-ticket parties at every GOP convention since 1996.
Gates has told the city she's planning for 10,000 square feet of main event space, plus another 3,000 square feet for a jazz club.