TAMPA — It turns out protesters outside the Republican National Convention might get closer to delegates than expected.
True, Tampa's designated protest areas won't give demonstrators a good view of the main plaza where delegates are likely to enter and leave the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
But a charity called Citizens Helping Heroes has applied for city permits to create an exclusive, temporary concert hall just south of Whiting Street — the official parade route for protest marches.
That means marchers would go by the spot where Lynyrd Skynyrd, Trace Adkins and Kid Rock are scheduled to play private concerts for crowds of 3,000 or more VIPs during the Aug. 27-30 convention.
Those acts — and potentially several others (think Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn, guitarist Robert Randolph, maybe Night Ranger) — would play at Liberty Plaza, a parking lot converted into a swank private party zone, with an eye-popping concert space, air-conditioned hospitality lounges, on-site catering and a cigar tent.
If it gets city approval to set up on the southeast corner of Whiting and Morgan streets, Liberty Plaza would not only be next to the parade route, but it also would be just yards away from two protest areas that the city plans to put along Jefferson Street.
Still, protesters aren't banking on a chance to chat up delegates.
"I would bet money that they would have something constructed to prevent any kind of rubbing of elbows between protesters and Republicans," said Jared Hamil, an organizer with the Coalition to March on the RNC.
Hamil would win that bet.
Schematics for Liberty Plaza's site show that the plaza would be separated from the parade by two fences, with a buffer about 70 feet deep between each fence.
The site itself would be fenced in, and the application to the city seeks permission to close Morgan and Jefferson streets south of Whiting. In addition to police who will be working the parade route and protest areas, Liberty Plaza would have a security force of 50, on-site 24 hours a day.
Lynyrd Skynyrd is scheduled to play Aug. 26, the day before the convention begins, Trace Adkins will play Aug. 28, and Kid Rock will play Aug. 29, according to a news release from Liberty Plaza Events. Organizers also expect a to-be-named major act to play a closing night "wheels up" party on Aug. 30.
The late-night concerts are expected to take place after the parades, which are being scheduled generally during the day. They'll benefit veterans programs such as the Navy Seal Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project.
The bands are expected to play inside an air-conditioned temporary building 213 feet long and 132 wide constructed by Regal Tent Productions, based near Toronto.
The company's name notwithstanding, Regal Tent's biggest products look more like huge greenhouses than circus big tops. The structure booked for Tampa is a variation of its double decker, which is assembled from 5-by-5-meter modular sections and is 38 feet high at the center.
The facility also would have a 14-foot-high mezzanine inside and a 60-foot-wide stage.
Liberty Plaza is expected to be a big operation, going from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. every day of the convention with a staff of 250. Shuttles would carry delegates to and from the convention site.
Along with the concerts, the plaza is expected to host invitation-only events for groups such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP whip team and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.