TAMPA — News organizations from as far away as Japan got their first look Tuesday at the place where next year's Republican National Convention will put Tampa Bay on the biggest of media stages.
"We're on the very floor where the next president of the United States will be nominated," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said in welcoming about 450 journalists to the St. Pete Times Forum.
But the business of the day, a media walk-through of the convention site, was not politics but logistics.
"Our campaign team will give the media the necessary facilities and access to cover all aspects of this convention," Priebus said.
The walk-through was the biggest RNC-related event to come to Tampa yet, and local organizers worked to hit the high points.
More than 50 volunteers in blue T-shirts handled check-ins. The Columbia Restaurant served up paella, while Louis Pappas Market Cafe offered Greek salad. Pinellas County tourism officials gave away souvenir seashells as their Hillsborough County counterparts handed out candied orange slices.
The second part of the tour was at the Tampa Convention Center, which will be the media center for 15,000 journalists. There will be no outdoor media trailers this year, which the crowd cheered, so many still hurting from the tents they worked in at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.
But one broadcaster sounded less than impressed with Tampa's waterfront when he asked about the backdrop for standup shots outside the convention center.
"Any plans to dress up the drab-looking building" — surely he didn't mean Tampa General Hospital? — "across the way to give us a sense of where we are?"
The deadpan answer: "Put in your request."
While a TGH makeover is not likely, the GOP's contractor will be doing extensive work at the St. Pete Times Forum.
To make the forum ready for the broadcasters, workers will convert luxury suites into mini TV studios and build some broadcast suites from scratch. News organizations will pay for the transformations, with fabricated suites going for $19,912 each, existing suites costing from $26,075 up to $34,360 for a double-wide.
Standup broadcast positions on the convention floor will cost $7,872, and radio booths will go for $3,693 each.
GOP officials said those prices were in line with and in some cases even lower than what was charged in St. Paul, Minn., in 2008.
GOP officials said their contractor would use local labor and local unions for the work. During a question-and-answer session, they said they expect no union problems on the project.
A lot of the walk-through was dedicated to technical matters — everything from credentials and security to who will provide onsite telephone and Internet service (Bright House Networks), who will supply the personnel for the network broadcast pool (CBS) and whether there will be a Spanish-language feed of the proceedings (yes).
The journalists on hand represented a cross section of global media, from the Washington Post, to the Associated Press, to Sirius XM radio, to Reuters, to CNN, to C-SPAN, to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.
"Those journalists will be telling Tampa's story — good, bad or indifferent," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who attended a Tuesday evening reception for the group along with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, former Gov. Bob Martinez and University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft.
"We need to know what their needs are, and they need to know what to expect from us," Buckhorn said. "This is critically important."
But for all the excitement about holding the August convention in Tampa , a cloud hangs over it for some GOP activists: How severely will the national GOP penalize the state party for scheduling its Jan. 31 primary earlier than party rules allow?
The state already has had its allotment of delegates slashed in half to 50 and Priebus told reporters after his speech that nothing will change that.
"Jeb Bush could be (RNC) chairman and Florida would lose half its delegates," he said.
But that might not be all.
The RNC rules committee also could inflict other penalties, such as limiting the number of guest passes Florida receives.
Or it could require the state to divvy up its delegates proportionally based on how the candidates perform on Jan. 31 in Florida, rather than award all Florida delegates to the primary winner, as the state party plans.
That would further dilute Florida's influence if the nomination contest drags on several months.