TREASURE ISLAND — The beachfront sand sculpture event proposed to coincide with the Republican National Convention in August is off.
In a blistering letter blaming police Chief Tim Casey's "paranoia,'' the Chamber of Commerce on Friday canceled the event.
Just days before, the City Commission unanimously approved a resolution supporting the chamber's proposal, albeit with a requirement that additional police officers be hired to provide security to eventgoers and residents.
The commission resolution also required the chamber to pay the city for its costs before it took any profits.
"The city has lost an opportunity that will never be recaptured in our lifetime," David King, the chamber's first vice chairman, wrote in the letter to the commission.
Mayor Bob Minning, reacting to the letter Friday, said he regretted the chamber's decision and confirmed it appears there is no way that the event can be resurrected.
"I asked if there was any way to change their minds and was told the plug has been pulled," Minning said. "It is unfortunate."
Several months ago chamber chairman Bill Edwards pledged $600,000 to pay for the event, an amount he did not expect to get back, according to chamber board member Harry Black.
But when security and other logistical problems were raised by city officials, increasing the potential cost, Black told the commission two weeks ago that Edwards and the chamber were withdrawing their support.
The following week, Commissioner Phil Collins met with chamber officials and it appeared the monthlong event might go forward.
"This will boost the economy of Treasure Island for years to come," Black said. "The free publicity and exposure will be priceless."
The chamber planned to erect two large tents on the beach behind Gulf Front Park next to the Bilmar Beach Resort to enclose up to 40-foot-tall sand Washington, D.C.,-themed sculptures.
About 50 buses leased by the chamber were to transport delegates and their families attending the convention in Tampa to and from the Treasure Island event.
After a two-hour discussion Tuesday night, the City Commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting a proposed sand sculpture event.
However, Black, who spoke at length at that meeting, did not appear pleased with Casey's continued insistence that additional police officers would be needed for a 10-day period bracketing the four-day convention.
"The police officers will make it a dead deal," Black warned.
Originally, Casey said he needed 15 additional officers and Tuesday agreed to reduce that request to 10.
"I realize I am the most unpopular guy here tonight," Casey told the commission. "But don't ask me to go below 10, I can't do it."
Casey was concerned that some of the demonstrators at the convention would also come to Treasure Island and create problems that his department could not handle without help.
His recommendation was strongly backed by City Manager Reid Silverboard.
"That is what our job is, to look out for the worst that can happen and plan for that," Silverboard said. "We have to do it. It is our responsibility."
That argument apparently did not impress the chamber.
"This decision (to cancel the event) resulted from the repeated, expressed concerns of Chief Timothy Casey over the possibility that our planned sand sculpture beach event would attract picketers and demonstrators that would create an unmanageable public safety challenge for the Treasure Island Police Department," King wrote.
King continued that despite "numerous meetings" with city officials, the chamber was "unable to convince Chief Casey that his paranoia was unwarranted."
King added that Casey's "repeated statement of his paranoia" during public commission meetings "heightened the possibility of these disruptive happenings occurring."
Minning sharply disputed that view Friday.
"I think Tim was doing his job exactly as he is supposed to do it. He was in tough spot,'' he said. "But there is no way the city would want to look back and wish we had taken Chief Casey's course of action."