TAMPA — Organizers say the 50,000 convention delegates, protesters and media that will descend on Tampa for the 2012 Republican National Convention could pump as much as $170 million into the local economy.
"It's like a Super Bowl for politics," said Rich Grant, spokesman for the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau. That city hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention. "There's hundreds and hundreds of receptions and parties and things that go on."
Conventioneers spend money on restaurants, catering, taxis, event production and hotels. And the 2008 convention host committees donated millions of unspent dollars to local groups.
In Minneapolis, where a private fundraising effort to pay for the 2008 Republican National Convention brought in $58 million, organizers gave most of a $7 million surplus to three local foundations.
Denver ended up with $1 million to continue a bike-sharing program launched during its convention.
Tampa organizers are basing their economic impact estimates on a study of the St. Paul/Minneapolis experience. The $170 million figure, however, includes a multiplier that calculates the value of new money that changes hands more than once in the local economy.
The study put direct spending on items such as hotel rooms, restaurants and venue rentals at $154 million. It arrived at that figure by comparing it to spending that occurred in the weeks before and after the convention.
And the impact hit strongest outside St. Paul, the site of the convention complex.
"It was more to Minneapolis and Bloomington and other venues," said Dave Brennan, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis who conducted the study. "That was because of all the security issues around the convention center."
Maclyn Clouse, a University of Denver finance professor, cautions that economic impact numbers often are exaggerated, either by overestimating the flow of money or ignoring the fact that locals might stay home and not spend money as they normally would.
"Before the Democratic National Convention, the word going out to all the Denver citizens, including people who work downtown, was stay away from downtown. It's just going to be a mess," he said. "They just said work at home. You obviously lost some of the people who would ordinarily have been there."
Locals, though, weren't ignored in either Denver or St. Paul/Minneapolis.
In Minnesota, the host committee spent $2.5 million on CivicFest in Minneapolis, which featured life-sized replicas of the Oval Office and Air Force One fuselage, a scale model of the White House and an exhibit on the U.S. Constitution.
"It was a place for people to come and experience politics," said Jeff Larson, CEO of the St. Paul/Minneapolis host committee. "We wanted the people in the community to experience the positive aspects of why we had a convention, democracy, and the American political system. We had a lot of parents, a lot of kids. I don't think those exhibits will ever be put back together again."
Denver organizers offered locals Cinemocracy, a festival where filmmakers presented and discussed their view of democracy. Dialog:City featured panel discussions with some of the "superstar" politicians in town.
And just for fun, a temporary railroad museum downtown boasted the world's largest steam engine, courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad.
Despite the warning to not overstate the benefits, Clouse acknowledges the convention does boost economic activity.
"Even on your best tourist weeks you probably aren't going to have an extra 50,000 tourists in town. There is going to be a benefit," he said. "The other long-term benefit is if your city puts on a big show and things go well for you, you're going to get people coming back."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3410