Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Ready or not, here comes Hurricane RNC

As the Republican National Convention edges steadily closer, does anyone else have that uneasy feeling you get when a hurricane is swirling out in the gulf?

Though an impending storm could always miss us.

The RNC will not.

Now, we don't want our 50,000 expected guests to feel unwelcome, not given the invaluable national exposure local boosters say they will bring to Tampa Bay. And look how we've been putting on the dog for them, paving, planting, propping up new trees and generally giving a gritty city a good scrubbing.

Actually, as we find out about streets closed, public parking gone, traffic rerouted and assorted other potential workday headaches for the Aug. 27-30 event, it feels less like a coming hurricane and more like handing over the house keys.

Or handing over downtown Tampa itself. And some of St. Petersburg, too.

We're stocking the fridge, setting out the good towels and putting on fresh sheets. We can only hope when the party's over and the Republicans go home, they'll take all their Sam Adams empties with them. (Wouldn't that be the GOP brew of choice?)

And did anyone get a security deposit?

But it's not just Republicans and journalists. We also expect a massive pack of protesters by the thousands.

Like a spontaneous side party outside a dry formal event — always more lively than the official do — the wide range of dissent and variety of causes will be the best street theater and, more important, the greatest glimpse of the current state of discontent in America.

Most of those protesters will be about making their voices heard, not making mayhem.

But as the photographer at my wedding once memorably said: At any gathering, there's always one uncle.

So downtown restaurateurs with outdoor seating that says aren't-we-a-cool-city get to worry that less civic-minded visitors might decide a bistro table would be a fine thing to send through a window — the sort of scenario police have already anticipated.

And so for many of us locals who work or live downtown, the heady novelty of being judged a city good enough to win this huge national event fades some as the potential headaches sharpen — a section of the Selmon Expressway closed for days, 900 on-street parking spaces gone, a logistically challenged downtown. St. Pete neighborhoods around the Aug. 26 welcome party at Tropicana Field can expect their own hassles.

And yes, now that you mention it, leaving town for the duration is a really, really excellent idea — if you are lucky enough not to be expected to, you know, work during the work week.

Says Tampa Downtown Partnership president Christine Burdick: "It will be a different environment, but we knew that when we asked for this." And we did, giddy with possibility.

City boosters say it will all be worth it, that the sting of this short stint will be forgotten in the positive fallout for Tampa Bay, potential anarchists and bistro tables notwithstanding. And I hope this is so.

Because the RNC is coming. And like with any storm, you can hunker down, get out of town or get in the thick of it.

But eventually, you get your city back.

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