IT TOOK THREE TRIES, but Tampa's selection Wednesday as the host of the 2012 Republican National Convention will prove to be well worth the considerable effort. The tens of thousands of visitors and an international audience will benefit the entire region. But the achievement is about more than money and marketing. This is another example of what can be accomplished when the region joins hands and raises its ambitions.
The GOP's site selection team chose Tampa over Phoenix and Salt Lake City. While the full Republican National Committee must ratify the selection, that is considered a formality, and area leaders are already cranking up plans for the event, scheduled for the week of Aug. 27, 2012. The convention would be held at the St. Pete Times Forum, with media headquarters nearby at the Tampa Convention Center. Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg could be an option if Republicans want to accommodate a larger audience on nomination night.
Tampa may have lost because of political considerations in 2004, when New York City was the sentimental favorite in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The loss in 2008 to Minneapolis-St. Paul was more difficult to accept. This time, Florida was a safer choice than Arizona, which recently passed a punitive anti-immigration law. Florida is also a larger swing state. Having the convention in Utah would have put a greater spotlight on the Mormon Church at a time when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney might be seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
But Tampa and the bay area have also grown into formidable contenders. Tampa has built thousands of hotel rooms since the previous bids, many smack dab in the downtown core. The city has opened a new fine arts museum, history center and parks along the riverfront, and new restaurants abound in the city center. Downtown has more residents, more places to go and new life, even at night. The city also reached across the bay and worked with Pinellas leaders to build on regional venues and attractions. Cuban coffee and the beaches are still a strong draw. But the area has so much more.
The Tampa Bay area is also better at selling itself. The region has a long history of hosting top-tier sporting events, from Super Bowls to national collegiate championships. But winning a party's presidential nominating convention will introduce the bay area to a global audience of broader dimensions. And it's a better deal financially this time. Instead of relying partially on millions from local government, the money for the convention will come entirely from the party, private sector donors and Congress. In these cost-cutting times, it would have been difficult to justify a large investment of local public money even for such a large convention.
By the time the Republican National Convention arrives in 2012, four decades will have passed since the last national political convention was held in Florida (Miami Beach). The nation's fourth-largest state is past due for another. And money and international attention aside, securing the convention builds expectations for the next big civic enterprise. On that note, we have a bid pending for the World Cup.