With just more than five weeks until 50,000 delegates, politicians, journalists and protesters descend on the Tampa Bay area for the Republican National Convention, many restaurants and attractions are booked already and will be closed to the public.
The Tampa Bay History Center, which will host Fox News for the GOP's biggest party, will be closed to the general public from Aug. 21 to Sept. 1. Others will be closed for a narrower window, but the list is growing: Neither the Mahaffey Theater nor the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has scheduled public shows or concerts during the convention, the latter hosting Jon Stewart's the Daily Show.
The Glazer Children's Museum will close its doors to host Newsweek, the Daily Beast, the Lifetime network and others. The Florida Aquarium is booked Aug. 26-30, the Tampa Theatre will close its doors, and businesses from Jackson's Bistro to Channelside Cinemas will not be open for regular business.
Many venues have signed confidentiality agreements for security reasons, complicating the task of identifying what will be open and which groups will be in temporary residence at which venues.
According to Tiffany Davies, director of marketing and events at Millennium Management Group, which includes four properties at Channelside (Stump's Supper Club, Tinatapa's, Howl at the Moon and Splitsville), her group has 16 to 20 bookings split between the four properties, with brunches, lunches and other parties. Because of nondisclosure agreements, she says, she can't reveal who they are.
And beyond what's already booked, she says, "We are anticipating a lot of activity at Channelside, but not from locals. We anticipate a lot of walk-in business from media."
This sentiment has been echoed by a number of other Channelside businesses. Robert Fisher, general manager of Hooters, will be "staffing up like it's five Super Bowls in a row," and others, such as Taverna Opa and Channelside Cinemas are already fully booked by RNC events. Feel like getting a gander at Glenn Beck or tea partiers like Christine O'Donnell? You'll find them here.
Maryann Ferenc, co-owner of Mise en Place and a host committee member, agrees that Channelside will be the center of much activity.
"Channelside for obvious reasons, as well as Ybor City, which is the city's most well-known entertainment district. It makes sense. Frankly, those are both areas that know how to do this, how to market themselves as a venue."
Confirmed bookings corroborate her guess: At least a dozen Ybor City restaurants, bars and clubs have been booked for official and unofficial events, some booked solid from Aug. 27 to Aug. 30.
Jason Fernandez's Carne Chophouse may have been the first venue to be fully booked, with the National Journal and Atlantic magazine taking over this new Ybor City restaurant for the duration. His flagship restaurant Bernini is also booked, with additional contracts and catering jobs still pending. He thinks, as with the 2009 Super Bowl, Ybor City will be swamped.
"This is the layman's analysis. When the Super Bowl was here it brought 25,000 to 30,000 people. You couldn't walk down the streets — they'll have to be closed for the RNC, too. Everyone will be in Ybor, during the day and late at night," he said, adding that fellow Ybor business owners are preparing for an onslaught of people, planning expanded hours until 3 a.m. to maximize profits.
Ferenc thinks that the third area that will be inundated with RNC business is right downtown.
"If you're coming to the convention, you're coming to downtown. The after-11 p.m. crowd is going to hang out downtown. There's a ton of business that happens after 11. As a member of the tourism industry, I hope local businesses keep their doors open."
According to James Davis, communications director and chief spokesman of the 2012 Republican National Convention, it's still a little early for all RNC venue bookings to be nailed down.
"Many delegations have just appointed their delegates and therefore they are just making plans. Media just received their hotel assignments, so now they can get more deeply involved in finalizing plans. This convention has more official venues than we've had in any previous convention. We have more venues, with several hundred requests, and thus more combinations, so it takes time to go through those."
Aug. 1 is the date by which the 76 official venues are released from their agreement with the Committee on Arrangements, which organizes and manages the RNC. Most official venues will finalize their plans by that date, but there are dozens more unofficial venues that will host corporations, lobbying groups, Super PACs and other RNC-related events.
So which Tampa neighborhoods are likely to be free of RNC fervor?
While South Howard and Hyde Park restaurants and bars have booked very little at this time, owners anticipate some late-night walk-in business.
It's Pinellas County venues, from downtown St. Petersburg to the gulf beaches, that have heard little from RNC planners, despite the fact that a number of delegations will be housed in Pinellas County hotels. Venues from Push Ultra Lounge to the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts have had nibbles, but nothing has yet gone to contract.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293.