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Tropicana Field to hop with 20,000 at RNC kickoff party

Listening to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster at the Trop on Monday are, from left, Ken Jones of the host committee, Tampa Bay Rays’ Matt Silverman, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagen and Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Listening to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster at the Trop on Monday are, from left, Ken Jones of the host committee, Tampa Bay Rays’ Matt Silverman, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagen and Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni.

The party's on at Tropicana Field.

What could possibly be the Tampa Bay area's largest cocktail party ever will jump-start the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26 at the Trop. The invitation-only gala is expected to draw 20,000 people and have first-rate entertainment akin to a Super Bowl halftime show.

"The event is unique," said Ken Jones, president of the Tampa Bay Host Committee. "It will be one of the world's largest media events in history."

The gala will feature themed sections promoting Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater and showcase local attractions, food and entertainment. More than 10,000 journalists, 5,600 delegates and 4,000 local dignitaries will attend the gala, which essentially will be a cocktail party with live music. It's expected to draw protesters when it starts at 6 p.m.

Jones declined to release the names of the entertainers. He also said security plans, coordinated by the Secret Service, are still being finalized.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said the event will be a chance for the city to shine in the global spotlight.

"This is opening day of one of the most important political processes in the world," he said. "You only get one chance at making a first impression."

City police officers will work the event, Foster said, but the federal government will pay their salaries.

"There won't be any general-operating funds used for this event," he said.

The party has been talked about for months. Local officials and the Secret Service have said the party will be at the Trop, but leaders at the host Committee have never confirmed the event. The committee has been negotiating with the Tampa Bay Rays for use of the facility.

Pinellas County tourism officials pitched in $600,000 from bed tax reserves to help pay for the bash.

The Tourist Development Council, the oversight board for the Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, approved the Tampa Bay Host Committee's request for the $600,000 in April. The County Commission approved the request in May.

The Hillsborough County Commission also voted to spend $1 million in tourist development tax dollars to promote the area during the convention. The commission allocated $400,000 of that to the St. Petersburg party.

Private donations also will help cover the cost.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

Tropicana Field to hop with 20,000 at RNC kickoff party 06/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 5:55pm]
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