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With 100 days to go, key tasks remain for RNC

With the Republican National Convention 100 days away, the Tampa Bay Host Committee celebrates tonight with an invitation-only party at the Harborview Center in Clearwater.

Between speeches, an expected 500 business leaders, politicians, donors and other guests will sample blueberry lemonade and hot-from-the grill Florida seafood that, as of Friday, was still being caught.

But away from the limelight, there is still plenty of work to do in five key areas.

The convention needs a security perimeter, a protest area and a transportation plan. The Tampa Bay Times Forum is looking at weeks of construction. And officials are talking about preparing for the swampy heat of late August.

"I feel like we're in pretty good shape," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "We've been preparing for a year and a half. There are a lot of moving parts to this, but I think we have tried to anticipate as many different scenarios as you can possibly imagine and plan for them."

The perimeter

The location of the Secret Service's security perimeter is arguably the biggest logistical decision of the convention.

Traffic, protests, downtown business and life on Harbour Island — it affects them all.

It also will be one of the last major things to be made known publicly.

"We never do announce it as such," said Mike Miller, the convention's chief operating officer.

Instead, the Secret Service has said it's looking at making some details available four to six weeks before the event. This is expected to be a list of road closures, from which the outline of the perimeter can be deduced.

Meanwhile, security planning covers everything from who gets credentials to what officials have called "bomb blast analysis."

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Fireworks and Explosives has calculated "lethal blast ranges" for car and truck bombs. For a sedan with 1,000 pounds of explosives packed in the trunk, anyone within 125 feet of the blast could be killed. The range at which life-threatening injuries could be minimized is 1,750 feet.

At past conventions, such analyses have led officials to shut down an interstate next to the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston and to change the route of a protest march outside the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn.

In Tampa, the same kind of analysis is likely to have a bearing on, for example, whether the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway is closed for the RNC.

Otherwise, they assume the perimeter will encircle the forum, the Tampa Convention Center, Embassy Suites Hotel, Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina and maybe the Tampa Bay History Center.

The perimeter could go as far north as Brorein Street, Buckhorn said.

This week, Miller told visiting journalists the outermost perimeter will include a vehicle checkpoint. To get past it, drivers will have to have a placard issued by the Secret Service. Their cars will go through a security sweep, and, if they are credentialed media, they will be able to park near the convention.

Closer in, there will be a second perimeter and a second check of credentials to get into the convention campus. And there will be a third checkpoint, with metal detectors, to get inside the forum or convention center.

While the feds don't provide early looks at the security plan, Miller said there won't be any mistaking the perimeter once it goes up:

"Let's just say that you will know it when you see it."

The protest area

Tampa officials this week finalized the rules for protests outside the convention.

Still undecided, however, are the locations of the official parade route and the designated protest area.

In the protest area, demonstrators will be able to gather around the clock, no permits required. Court cases from other cities have established that this protest area must be within sight and sound of the convention.

But here, the task is complicated by the fact that the city has agreed to ensure that the convention can park 300 delegate buses as close to the forum as possible.

Buses and protesters need to be kept apart, and city officials expect to negotiate to put at least part of the protest area on private property north of the forum.

Those negotiations haven't started, Buckhorn said, but "that will be coming soon."

Building out the forum

Watch what happens here starting in mid-July.

That's when the RNC takes possession of the forum for nearly two months of set-up, construction, the convention itself and move-out.

The punch list is long.

Workers have to build a big stage, plus a four-tiered platform for television and still photographers directly across the hall from it. The convention floor will be built up so cables can be run beneath it, and TV stand-up platforms will be constructed overlooking the delegates.

To create mini broadcast booths for TV, crews will remove the bolted-down stadium seats from luxury suites, plus furniture, doors, ceiling tiles and anything else they can take out. Then they'll cover everything that remains with plywood and plastic sheeting, and build from there. The cost, paid by the broadcasters, can top $34,000 per booth.

Some work already has taken place.

Just look at the ceiling, which used to be bare and solid. Sound hit it and bounced all over the arena.

"That's fine for a hockey game; it doesn't work well with the spoken word," said Greg Lane, the national project director for Freeman, the GOP's general contractor for the convention.

So the convention and the forum split the cost of a permanent fix. Long panels of sound-absorbing material were hung from the ceiling in swags, the ends fixed to the ceiling, the middles curving down slightly.

Similarly, the convention and forum are sharing the cost of adding a 2-megawatt transformer as a permanent power supply upgrade.

The tab for other work, like the stage, will be paid by the nonprofit host committee.

That means raising $55 million from private donors. So far, the committee has met five of five fundraising milestones set by the Republican Party.

Now, with the emergence of Mitt Romney as the presumptive nominee, fundraising is entering a new stage.

"It's not that it's easier to raise the money, but people are getting more focused on the convention," host committee president Ken Jones said. "Now they're, 'Okay, here we go. Let's talk.' "


With security closing roads downtown and 300 charter buses bringing delegates in from hotels as far away as the Pinellas beaches, transportation planning is key.

On the bright side, Jones said, the convention is a late-afternoon to evening event that should have less impact on morning traffic.

And, yes, it's true that officials have talked about the possibility of setting aside a dedicated lane on the interstate for the bus caravans.

But while a lot of work is under way, it won't come together until after the security perimeter is set.

"It is nowhere near settled," Tampa police Assistant Chief John Bennett said.

The heat

With temperatures in the 90s, the feels-like temperature could exceed 100 degrees during the convention. Public health officials expect heat-related ailments to be their biggest problem.

So Tampa police will ditch their midnight-blue polyester uniforms for all-cotton khakis. The city also set a 90-minute time limit on parades.

Recently, Tampa officials have talked about taking steps like providing water to demonstrators. It makes sense, Buckhorn says, but there are no decisions yet.

In the heat, it will be interesting to see whether any protesters try the "black bloc" tactics — wearing all-black clothes, including masks and hoods — that have been used at other conventions.

"I can't imagine," Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay said. "That could be extremely dangerous."

With 100 days to go, key tasks remain for RNC 05/18/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 18, 2012 10:18pm]
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