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Locals expect good things of Tampa's Republican National Convention, poll says

TAMPA — Good for Tampa Bay. Maybe not a big deal for you personally — unless you live or work downtown.

Those are the two most common expectations that Tampa residents have for this year's Republican National Convention, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll.

Half of the 304 residents polled said the convention, scheduled for Aug. 27-30 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, will help the region.

"It will bring people into the bay area, and they will spend money," said Brenda Burbank, 64, a preschool teacher who lives in Carrollwood. "I think it will be a good thing."

Another 34 percent don't expect the convention to make a difference. Eleven percent feel it will actually hurt the bay area.

At the same time, 42 percent don't expect the convention to directly affect their lives.

Twenty percent said it will affect them only a little. Thirty-five percent expect it to affect their lives some or a lot.

Residents who live or work near downtown Tampa foresee the biggest impact.

"I live two blocks from the convention center. I work two blocks from the convention center," Channelside resident Randy Burns said. "I think it will make it a bit harder" to get around, "but I'm not complaining."

That's because convention organizers expect direct spending to reach or exceed $175 million.

To help local companies compete for contracts to provide everything from generators to garbage pickup, the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee is creating a small business networking program.

Burns, 57, who manages Four Green Fields, said several groups have come through to look at the Irish pub as a possible event venue, but no one's made a commitment yet.

"I'm sure with all the people in town, we're going to pick up quite a bit of business," Burns said. "We always do when events come to town."

Not everyone expects the reality to live up to the hype.

"Whatever they say we're going to get, I'd cut that in about half," said Danny Guy Ball, 54, a retired magazine editor who lives in Seminole Heights.

Even optimists offer a caveat.

"As long as there's no problems, I think it will be very good for the bay area as a whole," said Susan Funk, 58, of Temple Terrace.

That's a big if.

With up to 15,000 protesters and 15,000 journalists in town, there's real potential for bad publicity on an unprecedented scale.

"I think there's going to be huge demonstrations," said Ken Marion, 57, who lives in Tampa's Beach Park neighborhood. "People are going to come from all over the country."

Looking at past conventions, particularly the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., city officials expect most demonstrators to be peaceful. But some, possibly hundreds, could be hard-core troublemakers determined to disrupt the event.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the city will accommodate demonstrators who want to exercise their right to free speech, but will not tolerate lawbreakers.

Marion, who has a company that sells nontoxic, ecofriendly products online, is one of several residents polled who said they don't want to see police go overboard in response.

"I just hope they don't bring up the riot police and make a big scene," he said. "Let the people protest."

Burbank agreed.

"I hope there are protesters," she said. "People are hurting financially and need help. And they need to be heard."

Even if the protests create no problems, the heavy security that comes with the convention is expected to have effects that ripple out through downtown.

"Anybody that's doing a lot of business downtown is going to have to be planning way in advance for how things are going to work during that period," City Council member Harry Cohen said. "Business is going to be tremendously different that week."

Much, however, depends on where the Secret Service establishes the security perimeter for the event.

While the agency has not said when that will happen, some things can reasonably be foreseen:

• The Platt Street bridge, which carries 34,000 vehicles a day into downtown Tampa, will almost certainly be closed so that no one can drive a bomb under the convention center, which is built over part of the road.

• Some downtown employees could be asked to alter their schedules to avoid peak convention traffic or work from home.

• Depending on what the judiciary decides, civil trials might not be scheduled at the downtown courthouse that week.

Not surprisingly, some downtown residents worry that traffic, crowds and road closures could overwhelm Tampa's best efforts.

"We have traffic jams all over downtown Tampa if somebody drops a nickel," said Diana Winoker, 58, who lives on Harbour Island, where the only two bridges to the mainland run near the Tampa Bay Times Forum and by the Tampa Convention Center, both of which will be in the security zone.

"I think we could look like a country bumpkin who comes to town with his clodhoppers on, and we could make fools of ourselves," she said.

It's not just traffic, she said. Tampa will have tens of thousands of out-of-towners looking for a place to eat, and they all can't go to the same top-tier restaurants.

"Let's face it," Winoker said. "We've got a lot of squat-and-gobbles and a lot of fern bars, but we don't have a lot of elegance."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3403 and @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

Locals expect good things of Tampa's Republican National Convention, poll says 01/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 5:00am]

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