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Tampa, GOP reach agreement on national convention details

TAMPA — City and Republican officials have hashed out the terms of an agreement for the 2012 Republican National Convention, set to be held in Tampa from Aug. 27 to 30.

"Our top priority was to make sure that there was not going to be a local taxpayer subsidy," said City Attorney Chip Fletcher.

The agreement calls for the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee to reimburse the city for any costs incurred to host the convention, including overtime of security, sanitation and other personnel, and pay for the use of parks, parking garages and other facilities.

In years past, the federal government has provided $50 million to cover the cost of security for political conventions. The Tampa Police Department, as the lead agency coordinating security with the Secret Service and other federal, state and local agencies, will control that money, according to the agreement.

A traffic plan requires parking for 300 buses as close as possible to the "convention complex," which includes the convention center and some city-owned property in the vicinity of the St. Pete Times Forum, the main convention facility.

"We'll have control over parking garages and parking spaces around the forum and convention center, some privately controlled, some city controlled. It really depends on what the needs are, and that's yet to be determined," said Ken Jones, acting CEO of the convention's 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee. "Those garages will be swept by the Secret Service, and they may not even be used, but they may have to shut down during the event."

That may cause an inconvenience for locals who use those garages, but Fletcher said there's plenty of time to work that out.

"I'm sure we can find ways to accommodate folks who have needs," he said. "But as you can imagine with an event that large, that's one of a variety of implementation issues we're going to have to work through between now and then. We're not going to leave anybody in a lurch."

Organizers say the event will draw about 40,000 people, including 15,000 journalists.

The city services agreement requires that convention planners use their "best efforts" to provide public access to areas affected by the event. The city is required to allow planners to display promotional signs at Tampa International Airport, downtown, in the West Shore business district and Ybor City.

Still to come: a contract for use of the Tampa Convention Center, which could serve as media headquarters.

The Republican National Committee is scheduled to ratify Tampa as the convention host city at a meeting Aug. 6 in Kansas City, Mo.

But first, the Tampa City Council has to approve the agreements, which will go to the board this month. "I think they will pass easily," said council Chairman Tom Scott. "I see it as an economic opportunity for the city in the downturned economy." Beyond the additional spending by visitors, he notes that the convention will provide the city with significant publicity.

And as for the lost parking spaces, he said that many of the corporate users of city garages have been having a hard time paying their parking fees on time if at all because of the difficult economy. During the convention, at least, the city will be fully paid for the spots.

After two failed attempts to win the convention, host committee co-chairman Al Austin said he's overwhelmed by the logistics of organizing the convention.

"Putting something like this together from the beginning is a little more involved than I thought it would be," he said. "I get inundated with people wanting jobs, wanting to volunteer and provide services."

Now, there's no organization to refer them to. The host committee hopes to line up office space soon, and the national party is scheduled to have full-time staffers in Tampa next week, Austin said.

Eventually, he said, organizers will be signing up volunteers and looking for businesses to provide everything from catering to balloons.

Austin is heading a fundraising effort to bring in $49 million to pay for the convention.

"We have a lot of people who have shown a great deal of interest in being sponsors or donors. I've met with about four different groups so far that will make significant contributions," he said. "The summer time is a little bit difficult with people going on vacation."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa, GOP reach agreement on national convention details 07/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 1:23am]

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