Today, the Republican National Convention moves into the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the countdown to making Tampa Bay history is officially on. A small army of carpenters, electricians, glass installers, movers, painters, stagehands, steel fabricators and laborers will go to work, and together they'll turn a well-known hockey venue into one of America's greatest icons of democracy: the site of a national political convention.
The Times Forum already has a proud history, having hosted everything from concerts to the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, which saw the Tampa Bay Lightning win professional hockey's Holy Grail in the seventh game over the Calgary Flames.
Nothing in its 16-year history, though, compares in size or scope to the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Nearly 50,000 people are expected to take part in the convention, including 15,000 media representatives who will shine the world's spotlight on the Times Forum.
An event of this magnitude involves countless details, and planning for the convention has been ongoing for more than a year and half. Now, with just over 40 days until the opening gavel, we're about to mobilize hundreds of skilled craftsmen and construction workers who will bring our best-laid plans to fruition.
It will take tens of thousands of man hours to get the Times Forum ready, and the many laborers required for the big transformation will bring tremendous job opportunities and economic benefits to Tampa Bay area residents.
The construction jobs required only tell part of the story. Throughout our planning for the convention, we've made every effort to tap into the truly impressive pool of talent here in Tampa Bay. Our production support teams will be made up of local workers. Even the folks who do our closed-captioning and sign language translations will be from Tampa Bay.
Much of the glass, fencing, tents and lumber for construction will be locally provided. We will use at least 1,200 sheets of plywood alone. We will also obtain scores of forklifts, scooters and golf carts from right here in Tampa Bay.
I have been involved in the planning of eleven national political conventions, and we always strive to leave the host facility in better shape than when we arrived. In the case of the Times Forum, our engineers will add a new door to the Channelside perimeter wall. We'll expand power capacity by two megawatts and install a permanent new subpanel to make electrical distribution more efficient. Meanwhile, miles of fiber optic cable will connect the Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center, which will serve as workspace for most of the media covering the convention.
The Times Forum recently invested $45 million to improve the facility, making it one of the nation's premiere venues. Steps will be taken to protect the facility. In the days ahead, our teams will carefully remove the fine wooden doors of the hospitality suites that will become anchor booths for major television networks. The doors will be stored safely in climate-controlled facilities and temporarily replaced. The rich lacquered floors of the newly redesigned suites will be protected by a layer of plywood flooring, which will then be covered with wall-to-wall-carpeting.
The most visible part of any national political convention, of course, is the balloon drop, and even the balloon drop this year will be the work of Tampa Bay residents. Student volunteers at Gaither High School will have the important job of blowing up thousands of red, white and blue balloons that will fill the Times Forum with dazzling color on the night Mitt Romney and his running mate accept the party's nomination.
The event will come to a close when we officially nominate the 40th Republican national ticket. After that night, the Times Forum will no longer just be home to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but forever a place in our nation's political history that played a role in selecting the next president of the United States. It is a privilege and an honor to continue to work alongside the people of Tampa Bay as we make history together.
William Harris is CEO of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Committee.