Stock up or get away? Harbour Island residents brace for political storm

HARBOUR ISLAND — Brad Ramer will be buying supplies to sustain him for three days.

"I know I'm going to hit Publix and Target a couple of days in advance," Ramer, 48, said. "Stock up at the grocery and ride it out like a tropical storm."

Others are hightailing it out of town.

"I just think it's going to be very difficult to have access to and get on and off the island," said Harbour Bay Townhomes president Mike McGirney, an attorney who plans to work out of his firm's Miami office. "I think if people are here it's because they can't go anywhere else."

There is no cone of uncertainty when it comes to the political storm that will hit Harbour Island hard in late August. Situated just south of downtown, the 177-acre neighborhood will be Tampa's most-affected neighborhood during the Republican National Convention. One of the island's two access points — the Franklin Street/Harbour Island Boulevard bridge — will be closed all three days as a security precaution because it sits next to the Tampa Convention Center.

Specific details of how the Aug. 27-30 convention will affect Harbour Island's 3,500 residents were released last week at a meeting between neighborhood and business leaders and the Secret Service, Coast Guard and Tampa police. The Harbour Bay Townhomes association spelled out some of those details to its members in an email to help them prepare for what's to come.

• The Franklin Street/Harbour Island bridge will close after noon on Aug. 25 through the end of the RNC to all traffic. Only credentialed pedestrians such as the Secret Service and law enforcement will be allowed through.

• All vehicles and pedestrians will have to use the Beneficial Drive bridge, Harbour Island's other access point. But the bridge will have its two southbound lanes blocked off until the end of the RNC. Its northbound lanes will turn into a two-way road — one lane northbound and one lane southbound.

• Security checkpoints on that bridge will be in operation two hours before the opening of daily RNC sessions until they end. All vehicles going through could be subject to security sweeps.

• Garbage, recycling and mail services will operate normally. But the InTown Trolley route will not cross over the bridge onto Harbour Island while the TECO Trolley will run from Ybor City up to Beneficial Drive.

• Monday, Aug. 27, will be Harbour Island's most disruptive day since there will be two RNC sessions. Vehicle security sweeps will start two hours ahead of the first session and continue through the end of the second session. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday RNC sessions start at 4 p.m. so security checks will start at 2 p.m.

• Authorities suggested that Harbour Island residents leave and return to the island early before session security sweeps start — or late after sessions and festivities have ended.

"I'm going to Disney World," said Tim Marks, 60, a retired attorney who has lived on Harbour Island for three years. "I probably could tough it out, store up my groceries and spend my time at Cafe Dufrain or That's Amore."

The two restaurants Marks mentioned lie in the island's tiny commercial strip on Harbour Post Drive. The Buzz coffee shop, also on the strip, is taking special precautions to serve residents who don't evacuate. Manager Katlynn Ellington, who lives in Carrollwood, said she plans to sleep at a friend's Harbour Island home during the convention so she can open the Buzz each day at 7 a.m.

Besides the coffee shop and restaurants, Harbour Island boasts a salon, dry cleaner, fitness center and a small market, many of which plan to continue operating through the convention. "Welcome to Harbour Island," read banners hung on the streetlights of the strip. "Everyday necessities for your convenience."

But Barb Ingber has a contingency plan, anyway. The ParkCrest condominiums resident plans to stock up on some extra fruit and Lean Cuisine entrees at the grocer to carry her through.

Ingber, 80, moved onto Harbour Island a few years ago because her grown daughters both live there. While they plan to flee to Las Vegas and Palm Beach, Ingber said she has never entertained leaving Harbour Island.

"It's paradise It's very beautiful. I love to walk and it's like walking in the Garden of Eden," she said. "I'm going to stay right in my little condo, and I'm going to make sure I have enough food so I don't have to go anywhere.

"This is the Republican hurricane."

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3368.

Stock up or get away? Harbour Island residents brace for political storm 08/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2012 5:30am]

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