Sunday, May 27, 2018
Politics

RNC security plan to restrict traffic in downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, plus on Selmon Expressway and I-175

One convention. Two cities. Virtually too many disruptions to count.

The Secret Service finally released its security plan for the Republican National Convention on Monday, detailing how two separate event perimeters will alter downtown life less than five weeks from now.

In Tampa, a section of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway will close for more than four days. In St. Petersburg, Interstate 175 will close for 10 hours.

Many smaller roads also will close or become one-way only. Hundreds of on-street parking spaces will disappear. Sidewalks and trails that normally welcome pedestrians will be blocked off with concrete barriers and steel fences.

That's not all. A fleet of 400 charter buses will form motorcades that officials say will cause intermittent delays and temporary closures on the interstate and throughout the Tampa Bay area.

All of it, officials say, is necessary so the RNC can safely move conventioneers from their hotels to the two main sites: Tropicana Field and the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"We really do take into consideration the impact that it has on the community," Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie said in a recent interview. "We try to minimize the footprint as much as we can."

• • •

In Tampa, the footprint will close the southern end of downtown to nearly all traffic from Whiting Street to the waterfront.

Closures will include the Brorein Street bridge, the Franklin Street bridge to Harbour Island and the Platt Street bridge, which carries 34,000 vehicles a day into a tunnel under the Tampa Convention Center.

The Selmon Expressway, which carries about 50,000 vehicles on a typical August weekday, will be closed from Willow Avenue to 50th Street starting 12:30 a.m. Aug. 27 through 5 a.m. Aug. 31. The Selmon's reversible elevated lanes will remain open for traffic headed downtown and will operate as normal during the RNC.

Not many people live in the part of downtown that will see the most traffic restrictions, but some do.

"Who in their right mind and with even a small amount of conscience would shut off access to an area with three homes and four apartments without any thought of the citizens living there?" asked Mary McColgan, who lives in a bungalow on a part of Nebraska Avenue to be closed. "How dare they!"

The Secret Service typically says little or nothing about where it puts its hardened secure perimeters, but its announcement Monday provides the best look yet at where those fences are likely to go.

A Tampa perimeter closed to pedestrians will include everything south of Brorein Street from Meridian Avenue on the east to a chunk of the western bank of the Hillsborough River on the west.

In downtown Tampa, more than 900 of about 1,400 on-street parking spaces will be unavailable. Access will be limited to the Whiting Street and Fort Brooke parking garages.

Despite it all, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the security is necessary.

"I think that all of us recognize that, post-9/11, the world has changed," he said. "I absolutely concur with the need for it, and I think that they are doing what is in the best interest of protecting the nominee and making sure that it's a secure environment."

A few closures will last longer than Tampa Downtown Partnership president Christine Burdick had expected, but she said the plan appeared "logical and pretty much predictable."

How about livable?

Yes, Burdick said.

"It will be a different environment," she said, "but we knew that when we asked for this."

• • •

In St. Petersburg, motorists, bicyclists and walkers should plan detours in the neighborhoods around Tropicana Field for three days.

That's because more than 20,000 delegates, dignitaries and journalists are expected at the RNC's invitation-only welcome party at the Trop on Aug. 26.

Roads around the field will start closing at 5 p.m. Aug. 25. Fans attending that night's Tampa Bay Rays game with the Oakland A's will have 90 minutes to remove their cars from the parking lot after the game or risk being towed.

The day of the party, authorities will close I-175, which carries an average of 36,000 vehicles a day, from 2 p.m. to midnight.

Other St. Petersburg closings include the Pinellas Trail from 10th to 20th streets between 6 a.m. Aug. 24 through 6 a.m. Aug. 27. In addition, foot traffic in the neighborhoods around the Trop also will be halted from 5 p.m. Aug. 25 through 6 a.m. Aug. 27.

The restrictions on street parking also extend to curbside spots near hotels, including the Vinoy Resort, the Hilton and Courtyard St. Petersburg.

Some businesses already know how to deal with road closures from other events like the Honda Grand Prix. Traffic will be halted on Bayshore Drive SE and Dali Boulevard between 1 p.m. Aug. 26 until 6 a.m. Aug. 27. The Dali Museum is open from noon to 5:30 p.m. Aug. 26, though visitors will not have access to the museum's parking lot.

Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill on Central Avenue will be open when the secure perimeter is active near Tropicana Field.

Owner Mark Ferguson plans to hold regular hours and encourages people to come to the bar via Central Avenue. After meeting with police and the Secret Service last week, Ferguson acknowledges there will probably be some disruptions, but is confident about the security zone.

"They have been working on this for a long time," he said.

Ferg's also is the site of a public party being hosted by GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul at 9 p.m. the night of the welcome party at the Trop. Paul's representatives have told Ferguson to expect 1,500 people, which would fill the bar.

Ferguson plans to set up barricades around the bar and funnel customers through three entrances. Police urged him to hire outside security for the Ron Paul event.

"We're going to eat the cost of security," he said. "Hopefully nothing will go wrong."

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