Halfway through Republican National Convention week, Tampa Bay has been both lucky and good. The opening party at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg came off flawlessly if antiseptic. Isaac delayed the convention by a day but skirted the region, and the uncertain weather had a silver lining: It doused the threat of violent protests for the time being. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn flooded the airwaves with positive energy about the region's excitement to be on the global stage, and Tuesday's traffic delays were manageable. So far, the region's thorough cooperation and preparation are paying off.
The biggest logistical challenges lie ahead today and Thursday, as the convention schedule cranks up inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the normal rhythms of work and school return outside. More traffic, more sun and more people downtown means more potential for frustration and spontaneous situations. But security, while somewhat overwhelming, appears polite, patient and prepared.
The police handled two protests Monday well. The officers stood back from the protesters' staging area and were polite if firm in guiding the parade through downtown. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor and Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee led the police escort for the parade, showing a concern for their hometown's image and a very public responsibility for the behavior of officers under their command.
Buckhorn's cheery image may have seemed over-the-top at times, but he was right to project a sense of optimism with Isaac approaching. Postponing the convention a day gave delegates an unexpected chance to venture out as tourists. And it gave civic leaders a chance to capitalize on this captive audience and pitch the region as a dynamic place for business and visitors. The mix of prudent storm preparation and reassurance from Tampa Bay officials and residents accustomed to hurricane threats reflected a professional competence.
Tampa lost an opportunity to showcase some of its signature public space thanks to the heavy use of steel barriers lining many downtown streets. The barriers are overkill, and rather than add to a sense of security, they make pedestrians feel trapped and block downtown restaurants and shops from potential customers. These walls of plywood and steel make downtown look rundown and put some of its newest and greatest amenities under wraps. It also is worth remembering that the rain delay was caused in part by concerns about running buses and auto traffic over the bay area bridges in Isaac's wake — the reality in a metropolitan area with no commuter rail and few mass transit options.
No news was good news Tuesday. The police canceled its regular late afternoon briefing Tuesday because there was nothing to report. A convention bus shuttle was late, but at least it happened to Florida's delegation and not to potential tourists. There was some complaining among delegates about the distance between Pinellas hotels and the convention site, but that was to be expected. The true test of the region's skill as a host will be apparent over the next 48 hours, as the convention cranks toward its high point and Mitt Romney accepts the Republican nomination for president Thursday night. If the second half of the week goes as well as the first half, Tampa Bay will be able to call its biggest event ever a success.