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FAMU alumni plan to boycott Tampa hotels

A national organization of Florida A&M University (FAMU) alumni plans to boycott Tampa hotels during a November football game if the hotels do not change their reservation policies this week. FAMU's national alumni president said Monday that his organization plans to ask alumni not to stay in Tampa for the Florida Classic, an annual Thanksgiving weekend game between FAMU and Bethune Cookman College (BCC), two predominantly black colleges.

"We're going to go with it (the boycott) unless they make a lot of drastic changes," said Herman Davis Jr., national president of the Florida A&M University Alumni Association.

The Classic is one of Tampa's largest special events, fans and hotel officials say. It pumps an estimated $6-million to $11-million into the local economy annually and is especially important to the hotels because it brings an influx of dollars to the city during Thanksgiving, traditionally a slow weekend in the hotel industry.

Carolyn Collins, a Tampa FAMU alumna who serves on the Classic Host Committee, said some hotels require that fans pay cash only for their rooms, make advance deposits or stay a minimum of two or more nights.

Gussie Davis, a member of the 5,000-person FAMU alumni group, said she favors a boycott because she thinks fans are mistreated by Tampa hotels.

"It makes me think that Tampa has a dual system based on color," said Davis, a member of the Dade County FAMU Alumni Association.

Area hotels have been working with the Classic's Host Committee since summer to try to improve relations with the fans. The hotels have published an eight-page brochure that explains each hotel's reservation policies.

But the FAMU alumni say that's not enough. "The brochure is very good, but the brochure didn't even address the problem," Collins said.

Bob Morrison, attorney for the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association, said the hotels are considering the request, but he does not think it can be honored completely just a few weeks before the game.

"There are some logistical problems that would be faced at this late date," Morrison said.

For example, Morrison said, hotels that have accepted cash might have to track down addresses and issue refund checks to fans. Morrison said he did not know how many fans have made reservations, but three of the hotels already were booked for that weekend.

Not all Classic fans plan to boycott.

Julius Kidd, president of BCC's national alumni association, said his organization had not discussed avoiding Tampa hotels and did not know of the FAMU plan.

Morrison said the hotels' treatment of Classic fans does not differ from that of other cities that have special events.

In addition to the Classic, FAMU fans travel to Jacksonville, Miami and Atlanta every year for big football games. FAMU graduates also visit various cities for alumni association meetings.

But only in Tampa _ one of two cities to which they return every year _ are there problems, alumni say.

"Florida A&M alumni are in a different city every month," Collins said. "We don't have any problems with accommodations anywhere else."

Chris Colbert, tourism services manager for the Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said hotels in Atlanta, site of the annual FAMU-Tennessee State University game, have few reservation restrictions.

But Colbert said he did not find Tampa's policies unusual.

"There's probably a valid reason for it," Colbert said. "They don't do it because they want to cause people problems. They just want the business."

Tourism officials in New Orleans, which hosts the Bayou Classic, said their hotels had policies somewhat similar to Tampa's. Officials in Jacksonville, where the annual Florida-Georgia game is played, also said they have similar policies.