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Secret Service watching cost of securing spread-out events at Republican National Convention

TAMPA — The distance between some events scheduled around the Republican National Convention could drive up protection costs for the Secret Service, the agency's top official recently told Congress.

And distance is not only a factor in the Tampa Bay area, where officials are planning for a convention-eve welcome party at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

In Charlotte, N.C., the Democratic National Convention is looking to host big events at three locations.

Spreading out the party comes at a price.

"Both the RNC and DNC have added events to their schedule that will be located some distance from the convention site and will attract large numbers of people," Secret Service director Mark Sullivan said in written testimony this month to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations.

Without identifying the events, Sullivan said "the addition of these venues will likely require more protective site personnel and equipment" as VIPs, delegates and the public "move from one secure zone to the next."

That, in turn, could have an impact on the agency's original cost projections and "will require close monitoring," he said.

While the Secret Service has flagged this issue internally, it has not been brought up as a potential problem in talks with local officials, say Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Tampa police Chief Jane Castor.

"We're working with them," Buckhorn said. "We meet with them probably weekly. It's all good so far."

The Secret Service secures the venues for national political conventions in a variety of ways. In 2008, its uniformed officers and personnel from the Transportation Security Administration used metal detectors to screen 35,000 people a day at each convention site. They also screened 80,000 spectators the night then-nominee Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech at Invesco Field in Denver.

In both Denver and St. Paul, Minn., the site of the GOP convention four years ago, the Secret Service also deployed canine explosive detection teams, as well as its own counter-assault and counter-sniper teams.

In Charlotte, convention site Time Warner Cable Arena is 14 miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Democrats plan a Labor Day celebration for 75,000 or more people. It's also a mile from Bank of America Stadium, where President Obama is scheduled to give his acceptance speech.

Other than mentioning the geographic challenge, Sullivan said planning for both conventions is proceeding on schedule. The Secret Service has had full-time coordinators working on extensive security plans for each convention since August.

RNC organizers have yet to say that any official decision has been made about holding a welcome event at Tropicana Field on Aug. 26, the evening before the convention is gaveled to order 24 miles away in downtown Tampa.

But officials in Pinellas County began openly discussing the party at the Trop six months ago, saying it could draw up to 15,000 journalists and 5,000 or more delegates. The Tampa Bay Rays also have agreed not to schedule a home game that day, to accommodate the convention.

Foster said in November that he welcomes the opportunity to host a showcase party in St. Petersburg, but added that the city needed to talk with RNC organizers and the Rays about who pays for security. While he expected that the city would end up covering some of the costs, he said there is no way it could cover all or even most of them.

Last week, Foster said he hadn't "heard a thing" about plans to pay for security at the event.

Asked whether Tampa's $50 million federal grant for convention security can cover some of St. Petersburg's costs of policing a party at the Trop, Chief Castor said, "whether it can or it can't, we're going to make sure it's a safe event."

Those questions aside, Foster says St. Petersburg will be a place where conventioneers can get away from the political business of the day and enjoy themselves, whether at the Salvador Dalí and Dale Chihuly museums or "the finest waterfront anywhere in the country."

"We're going to focus on the party, and I mean, a big party," he said at a March 12 ceremony to introduce himself and seven other current or former elected officials as honorary co-chairs for the Tampa Bay Host Committee.

From the start, Foster has made sure convention organizers did not overlook his city, host committee president Ken Jones said.

"Mayor Foster's the reason the host committee's name is the Tampa Bay Host Committee and not the Tampa Host Committee," Jones said. "We started out as the Tampa Host Committee and he called and said, 'You've got to be kidding me. There is another city here.' "

Information from the Charlotte Observer was used in this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

.In related news

Rampello could close for RNC

It's not official until the Hillsborough County School Board votes, but a downtown Tampa public school will likely close during the Republican National Convention in August.

Under that scenario, the Rampello K-8 Downtown Partnership School would open a week early so students can stay home between Aug. 27 and Aug. 30, when downtown Tampa will be bustling with convention activity. The district-wide start date is Aug. 21. At a recent PTSA meeting, members cited a survey that showed many parents and teachers want to close for the week. Some parents who work downtown will have the week off, and others will be relocated.

Marlene Sokol,

Times staff writer

Secret Service watching cost of securing spread-out events at Republican National Convention 03/19/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 19, 2012 11:03pm]

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