Tampa Bay's quest to become America's nominee to host the 2012 Olympic Summer Games began in earnest Sunday night with a ritzy reception staged to welcome United States Olympic Committee members to Florida.
That the USOC's annual conference is held this year in Orlando less than two hours from Tampa has been seen by local officials as a serendipitous opportunity to tell USOC members that the Tampa Bay area is the place for the games. And so their welcome reception at a conference room of the Omni Rosen Hotel spared little.
Two bands performed. Cocktails were available, and the hungry could gorge themselves at any of the several buffet-style tables where shrimp, pasta and egg rolls were served.
Cloth murals of palm trees and a pastel ocean adorned the walls. Signs posted throughout the room welcomed USOC members and staff. "Welcome to the southern hospitality of North Florida," one read.
Representatives from several of the 10 cities vying for the 2012 Games were among the 850 people on hand, but Tampa Bay had a bus load _ literally _ to do the soft sell.
About two dozen supporters of Tampa's bid arrived in Orlando by bus a half-hour before the reception began. They gathered in a hotel room, pinned on blue TAMPA 2012 ribbons and briefly discussed their game plan.
Members of the Tampa-Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Bureau were there. The mayors of Tampa, Clearwater and Lakeland were there. So were several members of the Hillsborough County Commission.
There were, however, some no-shows, notable because supporters of Tampa's bid have repeatedly made a couple of points. The first is that the bid will be strong because it will be a regional one, including all of west-central Florida. The second point often mentioned is that no other area of the state is vying for the Games, enabling Tampa Bay to bill its effort as "Florida's bid."
But Florida's governor, Lawton Chiles, was not there, working instead on carving out some solution to the school crowding problem. And some of the regional punch was missing without St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer or even Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, who didn't come to the reception in her own back yard.
Noting that there's an upcoming mayoral election in Orlando, Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said he believed that city's mayor will get more involved in the bid once the election is over.
He and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, the government official spearheading the effort, said USOC members seemed pleased with their pitch.
"Most of these people are pretty up on this bid," Greco said. "The truth of the matter is, there's really a shot."
To see what that shot could bring, Greco said he and Turanchik and possibly others would soon travel to Atlanta, site of the 1996 Summer Games.
"I'd like to see how much (money) they had left over," Greco said. "I'd like to see how the community benefited. I think we need to find that out before we carry this further."
The USOC won't determine which U.S. city will take on international competition for the Games until the fall of 2002, a decision that extends the contest at least two years longer than Tampa's representatives expected.
Still, Tampa Bay officials fanned out, making their pitch.
But it wasn't always easy picking out whom they should be making that pitch to.
Many in attendance wore name tags, but those tags did not say if the person was a member of the USOC's board of directors, which determines who will get the U.S. bid.
"It's hard to figure out who's talked to who," Turanchik said. "We'll find out later."
- Information from Times wires was used in this report.