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Tampa's Curtis Hixon park reserved for RNC conventioneers, not protesters

TAMPA — Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the city's showpiece on the Hillsborough River, is being reserved as a social spot for conventioneers during the Republican National Convention — not as a rallying point for protesters.

Under its contract with the city of Tampa, the convention has dibs on more than a half-dozen downtown parks during convention week, Aug. 27-30.

In a letter hand-delivered to the city Thursday, the Tampa Bay Host Committee released its claims on three of those parks: Lykes Gaslight Square Park, Herman Massey Park and MacDill Park, which now could be available for demonstrations.

This means the convention almost certainly has one or more requests for the Curtis Hixon park, which is on the RNC's list of 73 event venues available to state delegations, media companies, visiting corporations, think tanks and trade groups.

"It's my understanding that they plan to keep that and have some events there," City Attorney James Shimberg Jr. said of the convention's intentions.

Convention spokesman James Davis said Wednesday that RNC organizers are not announcing which groups plan to hold events at any particular venue, though individual groups may do so as they make their plans.

Last week, for example, Google said it would throw a party on the closing night of the convention at the Tampa Museum of Art.

But organizers have offered a few hints about possible events during the convention. Host committee president Ken Jones last month let slip a couple of names — Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd — that organizers have been working to book for a convention-week concert.

On Thursday, Jones said concerts were among the events being looked at for Curtis Hixon park, but he would not go into details. "There's a lot of options on the table now," he said.

One protest group, Fight Back Florida, has requested a permit for a 5,000-person march on Aug. 27 starting from Curtis Hixon park.

A local organizer for the march Thursday called the convention's ability to hold the park for its own use "dirty politics."

"It's atrocious," organizer Jared Hamil said. "I have a question for the city: Whose side are they on, the people's side or the Republicans' side? They've allowed the Republicans to see where are people organizing, and they have let them work against us and try to prevent us from trying to protest and voice our opposition."

That's not the idea, Jones said. As the convention determines that it doesn't need a park, it will release it to the city.

"If we're not going to use a venue, we're not going to unnecessarily tie it up," he said.

While Fight Back Florida applied for its assembly permit in January, the convention's right of first refusal on downtown parks goes back to July 2010, when the City Council approved Tampa's contract with the host committee.

The convention gave delegations and other groups a May 1 deadline to request event venues.

Since then, convention organizers have worked to match groups to venues, which can involve looking at second and third choices if the first isn't available.

There's also the possibility that a venue could be booked by one convention group on Monday, another on Tuesday, and so on.

But to use those parks, the convention-related groups will have to go through the city's regular special-event permitting process, officials say.

That includes paying a permit fee, buying insurance and applying at least 60 days in advance, 90 if the event needs a street closed.

As of Thursday, the city parks that remain under the convention's control include Curtis Hixon park, plus Perry Harvey Park, which Shimberg thinks the convention does not plan to use, and two waterfront parks expected to be inside the convention's hardened security perimeter: USF Park and Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.

Tampa officials have said protest groups that want to hold a large event at a park inside the city's "Event Zone" during the convention should apply for a permit by June 11.

If there is more than one application for the same park on the same day, the city will hold a lottery to award the permit.

Parks officials are working to put out which parks will be available for the lottery next week, Shimberg said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa parks and the RNC

A contract between the city of Tampa and the Tampa Bay Host Committee gives the Republican National Convention the right of first refusal on the use of more than a half-dozen city parks. Here's the status of some, as of Thursday:

Reserved for the convention

Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

Cotanchobee Fort Brooke

USF Park

Perry Harvey Park

Released to the city

Lykes Gaslight Square

Herman Massey Park

MacDill Park

Tampa's Curtis Hixon park reserved for RNC conventioneers, not protesters 05/24/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 5:55pm]
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