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Big, temporary entertainment venue to be built for RNC

TAMPA — The first glimpse of the entertainment landscape around the Republican National Convention is coming into view, and what's on the horizon is both intriguing and impressive.

Picture an airy, made-to-order building — a temporary building — with entertainment space for up to 3,500 people. It could host a private concert. It could serve as an exclusive pop-up nightclub, complete with an upstairs VIP area.

It's coming, says Regal Tent Productions, a company based near Toronto that's been hired to put up the two-story structure somewhere outside the convention hall.

"It's going to be a spectacular place," said Gregg Chipman, the company's sales and marketing director. The dimensions: more than 210 feet long, 130 feet wide and 38 feet high at the center. It will have a raised mezzanine inside, and, yes, it will be air-conditioned.

"You gotta be in Tampa in August," Chipman said.

The company expects to bring its own team to Tampa and might hire local labor for an installation that could take up to 10 days.

Despite the company's name, Regal Tent's biggest products look nothing like a circle of canvas propped up by a couple of poles. The structure booked for Tampa is a variation of its double decker, which is assembled from 5- by 5-meter modular sections. It looks more like a giant fancy greenhouse than a tent.

Considering that Florida can see tropical storms and worse in late August, are these structures engineered to withstand harsh weather?

"Of course they are," Chipman said. "These structures are put up all over the world."

And what's planned for Tampa is not nearly the biggest venue that Regal Tent builds. In 2010, it created the Molson Canadian Hockey House at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. This weekend, it is putting up a 70,000-square-foot structure for a gas and petroleum expo in Canada.

Here in Tampa, what's not clear yet is what the entertainment will be.

Regal Tent is working with Rob Jennings at American Event Consulting in Washington, D.C., on its plans. Four years ago, according to the New York Times, Jennings produced events at both national political conventions. This week, he declined to discuss details of anything he's got in the works for the RNC, merely saying these kind of events tend to be private, not for the ticket-buying public.

What's normal, though, is for a national political convention to feature entertainment and celebrities of all kinds, organized and sponsored by corporations, interest groups, media companies or other private parties.

So far, the only names that have surfaced as possible convention-week performers are Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Tampa Bay Host Committee president Ken Jones said his organization is not involved in the effort to book those acts, but he's heard about them from solid sources.

"I've been told that these guys are coming," Jones said, adding that private groups are doing the booking. But it's too soon to say when or where they might play. "There are a lot of options on the table. I think they're taking into account a variety of factors: size, time of day, rain, heat. They're looking at several different venues right now, but it's my understanding that the venue has not been confirmed."

Similarly unanswered is where Regal Tent's creation could go. At 8 acres, Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is big enough and is on hold for social events during the Aug. 27-30 convention.

Representatives of a tent company were "out scoping" the park last week, Tampa parks and recreation director Greg Bayor said, though parks employees didn't catch the name of the company.

If a temporary building does go up in one of its parks, the city would require that any necessary repairs be made afterward, including replacing stressed or damaged sod, Bayor said.

Chipman confirmed Regal Tent did check out Curtis Hixon park, but he doesn't think the double decker will be installed there.

"It was going to be there, but it's not," he said. It could go to a parking lot. "We've looked at a whole bunch of different spots, five or six at least."

So far, no one has approached the city for permits. Tampa director of planning and development Thomas Snelling said officials are interested in reaching out to the company to set up a review of its construction plans.

"We're not going to let something like that go up without looking at it" for building safety and fire safety considerations, Snelling said, adding, "no matter where it goes."

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

Big, temporary entertainment venue to be built for RNC 05/31/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 31, 2012 11:34pm]
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