TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Host Committee has raised more than a third of the $55 million needed to help stage the Republican National Convention.
"Tens of millions of dollars" in cash and in-kind contributions was how host committee president Ken Jones described fundraising Wednesday, which marked 200 days until the convention.
Whether that's two, three or four tens, Jones would not say, but it has been a good week. Monday morning, he opened an envelope from a Florida company to find a check for $1 million. That afternoon, another million arrived from a different Florida company via wire.
But Jones told a crowd of more than 200 that raising funds isn't easy in a sputtering economy, nor does it get a boost while the nomination is undecided.
"We really do stay neutral" during the primaries, Jones told a business breakfast at the University Club sponsored by the Trenam Kemker law firm. The host committee is nonprofit and nonpartisan, and its mission is to support an event that promotes Tampa Bay.
So when people ask him about Rick Santorum's sweep of three presidential contests Tuesday, Jones answers, "It actually makes our job a little harder, to be honest with you, because people get excited about conventions when there's certainty, and right now, there's no certainty."
While most contributions come from big donors — who often want, in exchange, credentials, to host parties at the convention or other promotional opportunities — the host committee this month will start to let donors make small contributions online. It's also looking at giving away a trip to the convention with box seats to one of those "low-dollar" donors.
About 1,000 events will take place during the convention, five times as many as at the last Super Bowl, Jones said. The convention has reserved 96 venues and will probably end up using 25 or 30 of them.
The host committee also plans to launch a discount card program for Tampa Bay residents and visitors at local restaurants during the convention.
Many people assume that conventioneers will monopolize restaurants during the convention, but Jones said it's important to remember that the 6,000 delegates and 15,000 journalists will be at the convention every night from 6 to 10 p.m.
"All those delegates are not where you think they're going to be at prime-time eating hours for dinner," Jones said. "So please don't leave (town) during the convention. It's a phenomenal event to watch. It's history."
The host committee isn't the only group busy with preparations. Police and protesters, city officials and civil libertarians — all are making plans.
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With up to 15,000 protesters expected to converge on the Tampa Bay Times Forum, police would like to get an idea of what they'll have on their hands.
As a result, Tampa police, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Secret Service plan to send personnel to Chicago in May to observe the meetings of NATO and the G8, a group of leading industrial nations.
Like the national political conventions, the G8 is considered a "national special security event" requiring heightened planning and tighter security because of the intensity of protests.
"It's like in the past," Tampa Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin said. "We've gone to previous Super Bowls before we host it."
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Protesters, too, are looking ahead.
The West Central Florida Federation of Labor, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, is seeking a permit to hold a parade every day from Aug. 26, the day before the convention, to Aug. 30, its last day.
Organizers say they plan to bring 500 people a day, and they propose to march from Joe Chillura Courthouse Square south on Jefferson Street, under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, then along Channelside Drive or as close to the Times Forum as they can before returning to the park along Morgan Street.
A second group is seeking a permit for up to 5,000 people to march from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Aug. 27.
Fight Back Florida, a group consisting of union members and young people, says in the application the march is "to peacefully protest the Republican agenda and to demand jobs, health care, education, equality and peace."
So far, city officials say they will act on the applications after completing a permitting process tailored to the convention.
That could be presented to the City Council in March, city attorney Jim Shimberg Jr. said. The city is looking at ordinances that would be in place during the convention itself, and maybe a little before and after the event.
Like other cities that have hosted conventions, Tampa is looking at prohibiting demonstrators from carrying materials that could be used as weapons. It also is looking at creating a parade route and a "First Amendment zone" for demonstrators.
In the meantime, parade applications are being date-stamped and will be considered in the order they are received, city Chief of Staff Santiago Corrada said.
The city should consider the applications soon, said John Dingfelder, senior staff attorney for the mid Florida office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"If people are coming in from all over the country, they need to know what to expect and that it's worth their trip," said Dingfelder, who has helped the AFL-CIO on its application. He said the ACLU is "only going to be working with organizations that have a peaceful and lawful intent."
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In another development — itself a sign of the times — the convention recently filled a job that didn't exist four years ago.
Jonathan Torres, 32, is working his first full week in the newly created job of director of digital engagement. In that role, he will work on strategies to do everything from making sure the convention has a big presence on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, to using Quick Response, or QR, codes, to encouraging conventioneers to check in on Foursquare when they visit radio row.
Of course conventioneers will want to share what they see and hear, but the idea is not so much to give them things to tweet as to point them in promising directions, then get out of the way.
"The most successful social media campaigns," Torres said, "have been those that have been driven by the fans."