TAMPA — So far it has been all talk: the 400 buses, the road closings and detours, the 50,000 delegates, protesters, journalists and other visitors squeezed into 1.3 square miles between the Hillsborough River and Channelside Drive.
But starting at 7 p.m. today, the talk shifts to action with a 17-hour overhaul of downtown to make it secure — and traffic-ready — for Monday's kickoff of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Most downtown workers won't see the effects of that effort until their Monday morning commute. Basically, it boils down to this:
• Nearly half of downtown — generally south of Jackson Street, but also parts of Madison and Franklin streets — is closed to vehicles. Look for plastic barrels and water-filled Jersey barriers blocking intersections.
• Metal fencing stretched along Brorein Street to envelop the Times Forum, the Tampa Convention Center, Channelside and Harbour Island to keep out pedestrians.
• Dozens of temporary signs, including electronic message boards, directing drivers entering downtown from, among other places, Ashley Drive, Bayshore Boulevard, Cass Street, Channelside Drive, Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa Street, Twiggs Street and the Selmon Expressway's reversible lanes at Meridian Avenue.
• Hundreds of uniformed police — on foot, in cars, and on horses, bicycles and motorcycles.
"It's really off the charts compared to anything we've ever dealt with, in terms of the size and scale," Transportation Manager Jean Duncan said.
Keep in mind that officials expect more traffic in the afternoons than mornings because most of the RNC-related events are late in the day, so those hundreds of delegate buses aren't likely to roll into town until mid- or late-afternoon. There's no telling, however, when protesters will gear up. Generally, officials are advising downtown workers to come early and leave early to avoid the crush.
In St. Petersburg, the festivities start Sunday night with a massive welcome party at Tropicana Field. Drivers will see road closures around the stadium from 5 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday. Interstate 175 will close at 2 p.m. Sunday and reopen at 11:59 p.m. Parking restrictions start at 6 p.m. today and last until 6 a.m. Monday. Parking restrictions around some hotels will last until 2 a.m. Aug. 31.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.