Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Public safety

Harbour Island residents face delays as security increases for Republican convention

TAMPA — Harbour Island residents and employees should plan to pull out their driver's licenses when they're headed onto the island during the Republican National Convention.

Anyone coming onto the island will be asked to show identification for a security screening because of the island's proximity to the Tampa Convention Center, according to information Tampa police and the Secret Service gave Steve Wigh, president of the Harbour Island Community Services Association.

"People accessing the island will be screened," Wigh said.

The screening is one of the first known security details of how the GOP convention from Aug. 27 to Aug. 30 will affect Harbour Island and bordering neighborhoods amid swirling speculation of closed bridges and other possible precautions security officials won't comment on.

It's not known exactly where the Harbour Island checkpoints would be set up. The island has two bridges — S Harbour Island Boulevard, which runs by the convention center, and S Beneficial Drive. It's also not known if the checkpoint would restrict tourists or visitors.

Tampa police referred questions to the Secret Service, which didn't return a call for comment Monday afternoon. The Secret Service will decide the shape of a security perimeter and has said it will release more information on a security plan about four to six weeks before the convention.

But during a January meeting with downtown businesses, Tampa police Chief Jane Castor alluded to the checkpoints.

"To say that only residents will be allowed on Harbour Island is probably incorrect, but there will be some checkpoints," Castor said then.

More than 3,500 residents live on Harbour Island, a 177-acre neighborhood just south of downtown that also includes retail shops and restaurants.

"The biggest thing that we're doing is making folks aware that there will be some delays getting on and off the island because of the security measures that are in place," Wigh said.

Ashley Smith, a software saleswoman who has lived on Harbour Island for three years, said her building, the Plaza, informed her of the checkpoints. She said she doesn't mind the inconvenience or traffic slowdown the screening could cause.

"I'd rather be safe than sorry," she said.

Shannon Greene, co-owner of Signature Spa Salon and Boutique on Harbour Post Drive, expects nothing but better business from the Republican National Convention. She has sped up a salon expansion in time to cash in on some of the 50,000 people the convention is expected to draw.

A security screening checkpoint wouldn't bother her, either.

"If people are having a hard time to get on and off the island, well, we're here," Greene said.

But Jenna Bernstein, owner of neighboring Pawsitively Pets and Petz Mobile, wondered if security officers would hinder or stop tourists from shopping on the island.

"The point is to show them around," she said, "not shoo them away."

Officials from Davis Islands, a neighborhood of more than 5,400 just west of Harbour Island, don't know if they'll face similar restrictions. They postponed a neighborhood watch meeting Monday because Tampa police couldn't provide them with any more RNC-related information.

Neighborhood watch coordinator Harold Moore said the only restriction he's sure of is the curbing of private boat traffic around the convention center — from the south end of Harbour Island north.

The Davis Island Yacht Club was told to postpone its weekly Thursday evening sailboat race during the convention. Those details were released during a meeting with Secret Service and Coast Guard officials three weeks ago, Moore said.

Coast Guard Chief Russ Tippets declined to confirm those details, saying a proposed security zone will be released within the next two weeks for recreational boaters' input.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3368.

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