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Tampa will host 2012 Republican National Convention

TAMPA — For more than an hour they waited for the call.

When it was imminent, dozens of Republican boosters, visitors bureau staffers and elected officials leaned toward a speaker phone in the center of a boardroom table.

The voice of Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele crackled through.

"I'm very, very proud to call you and congratulate you for being selected as the host city for our convention," Steele said as the room burst into cheers and applause. "We're excited and ready to get to work on what we believe will be one of the best people's conventions we've ever had."

After two failed attempts to win the Republican National Convention, Tampa finally won the event that will shine the country's political spotlight on the bay area during the week of Aug. 27, 2012.

"This is going to be a community effort for the whole Tampa Bay area. Everybody who wants to be involved will have an opportunity. We'll need thousands of volunteers," said Al Austin, co-chairman of Tampa's convention host committee. "This is just the beginning of a great trip that will culminate with the convention itself."

Austin told Steele, who will be in Tampa within the week to meet with host committee members, that fundraising for the event to be staged at the St. Pete Times Forum would begin immediately.

"We're not going to disappoint anybody," Austin said. "This will be, as the chairman said, the greatest convention that we've had so far as Republicans."

Unlike previous years, the host committee is seeking no funding from strapped local governments. Instead, the budget calls for $40 million to be raised privately by the host committee, a grant of about $18 million to the RNC from the Federal Election Commission and $50 million appropriated by Congress for security.

In the coming weeks, the Republican National Committee and local officials will hash out details of contracts that cover everything from security to transportation and support services.

That has to be done before the full Republican National Committee can ratify the site selection team's pick at its August meeting, something that typically is a formality.

"I have no fear or doubt that we'll get through that good work," Steele said.

Organizers say the event will draw about 40,000 people, including 15,000 journalists, and have a $170 million economic impact on the city.

Even before the first day of the convention, the local economy should experience a boost, said Ken Jones, a lawyer and member of the Tampa host committee who worked on two previous GOP conventions.

The Republican National Committee will open offices in Tampa, and more than 150 staff members will live and work here in the months leading up to the convention, he said. The host committee will also hire 30 or 40 people.

"Those folks will be working and living in the community," Jones said. "It will be a major economic impact from that perspective, not only just the visitors coming during the week of the convention."

Among those on hand in the offices of Tampa Bay & Co., Hillsborough County's convention and visitors bureau, for the announcement from Steele were Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan.

"This is a historic day for Tampa Bay," Hagan said, pointing out that it's the largest nonsporting event the city has hosted. "This is going to be a shot in the arm for our economy, and it could not happen at a better time."

Iorio noted that the announcement came on the heels of Tampa hosting its fourth Super Bowl and that the city is on the short list to host soccer's World Cup.

"Tampa is on the map as a major city in the United States that can host any event of any size," she said.

Iorio, a Democrat, was initially lukewarm to the idea of Tampa bidding for the third time on the Republican convention. But she backed the proposal after receiving assurance the city would be reimbursed for any expenses, including overtime pay.

"I'm frugal by nature," she said. "I've become even more frugal as the city's revenues have lessened. We've had quite a few cutbacks as all cities and counties have, and I wanted to make sure we were not going to have to put out extra money."

The county's Tourist Development Council will discuss today a request from Tampa Bay & Co. for $180,000 as reimbursements for expenses associated with bidding on the convention and the World Cup.

Visitors bureau officials say they later will ask the council for $1.5 million to promote the convention.

Tampa beat out Phoenix and Salt Lake City in a unanimous vote by the site selection committee Wednesday during a meeting near Washington, D.C.

"All three cities were viable. Tampa just came out on top," said Holly Hughes, a national committee member from Michigan who led the nine-member team.

The advantage, she said, was the number of hotels, the amenities and the space for a crush of media.

Tampa lost its bid for the convention in 2004 to New York City and in 2008 to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Hughes disputed notions that Utah was overlooked because it is a mostly white, solidly Republican state and that Arizona was passed over because of its controversial new illegal immigration law.

"It was a purely a business decision," she said.

Plans call for the convention to be held at the St. Pete Times Forum, although other events would take place at venues throughout the Tampa Bay area. When the site selection team came through town, its itinerary included stops at Tropicana Field and the Don CeSar Resort in Pinellas County, as well as Ybor City, the Tampa Museum of Art and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa will host 2012 Republican National Convention 05/12/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 4:34pm]
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