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GOP convention may cost public $21.8-million

The potential cost to the public for hosting the 2004 Republican National Convention is a lot higher than organizers have been saying.

Local leaders who want to bring the convention to Tampa said Tuesday they may need as much as $21.8-million in public money and in-kind donations to host one of the world's biggest political events.

Their estimate is at least $11-million higher than what they had said earlier.

At first, organizers said tax support would be minimal, and Mayor Dick Greco said he hoped the event would not cost taxpayers anything. Later, they estimated the public cost would be $10-million. Then, they said it might cost about $15-million, mostly from in-kind donations of services such as law enforcement.

But even as organizers were offering those estimates to the public, they were submitting significantly higher figures to the Republican National Committee.

The organizers released that preliminary budget Tuesday under what Paul Catoe, president of the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, described as pressure from the media. News organizations had asked for the information under Florida's public records laws.

Catoe described the release as a public relations "nightmare."

He urged reporters to discount the $21.8-million estimate, calling it a "moving target" that would change. Earlier estimates were just guesses, he said.

"I hate to be nailed to the cross on this," Catoe said. "We don't know what this convention will cost."

If government agencies won't give as much money in tax support, Catoe said local Republicans led by developer Dick Beard and Al Austin would then raise more money. The preliminary budget estimated the local host committee would raise $28-million from donors, mainly from corporate sponsors.

They estimate the convention will bring in $200-million to $500-million.

In June, Catoe, Beard and Austin told the St. Petersburg Times that most public support would come from government agencies donating services such as police time and use of the Tampa Convention Center.

In fact, the preliminary budget already prepared at that time estimated that in-kind donations would account for 31 percent of public support, or $6,865,000. Direct public money would account for the majority of support.

Of the $15-million in direct public money, organizers hope $10-million will come from the state Legislature. The rest would come from local governments, including the city of Tampa, city of St. Petersburg and the Hillsborough County Commission.

No public officials have been briefed on the estimates, Catoe said. Mayor Dick Greco hadn't read the document, although he went to Washington to present the city's bid to national Republican officials.

Legislators, county commissioners and City Council members were taken off guard Tuesday.

"I would say that would be highly unlikely that we will be able to afford anything like that," said state Rep. Sandy Murman, a Tampa Republican.

County Commission chairwoman Pat Frank, who also heads the agency that distributes local tourism dollars, said the estimate "may come as a shock to people."

Frank said the Tourism Development Council, which raises about $12-million a year through a 5 percent tax on hotel beds in Hillsborough, already has committed most of its revenues to paying off bonds to build the Ice Palace.

"I thought this would be a private project," Frank said. "They were just going to ask for in-kind donations, obviously cleanup and police."

County Commissioner Chris Hart said Tuesday he was excluded from meetings to plan the convention.

Originally, organizers planned a press conference for today to explain the document to reporters. But at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Catoe called the St. Petersburg Times saying, "I'm under a lot of duress" to release the documents immediately.

He said the public support was far less than what organizers had sought to put on the 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia. There, taxpayers picked up $38.9-million, or 59 percent of the cost.

Tampa's estimates call for taxpayers helping with about $21.8-million, or about 44 percent, of the $50-million cost.

"There is not a convention, there is not a Super Bowl, there is not a national event that comes to this area that does not have public funds _ they all do," Catoe said.

Catoe worried that officials in New Orleans and New York, the two other cities competing for the convention, would read about Tampa's plan and use it to their advantage.

Host committee co-chair Beard, a Tampa developer, also was upset. He said reporters had "busted into our office," and declined to discuss the documents.

The groups' preliminary budget called for a $10.9-million "contingency fund" that would pay for extras _ like a celebration of democracy at Busch Gardens for the public and for cultural events in St. Petersburg related to the convention.

Visitors would stay in 20,010 hotel rooms booked for six nights for the convention, which is planned for Aug. 30-Sept. 2, 2004.

About 5,700 of those hotel rooms are in Pinellas County, an average of 23 miles from downtown Tampa. Another 3,500 rooms would be in north Tampa, 5,300 would be in West Tampa, and 4,100 would be in downtown Tampa.

What it will cost

Local officials who want to bring the 2004 Republican National Convention to Tampa gave the GOP the following preliminary budget:

Revenue

Private cash $28.14-million

Public cash (state and local) $15-million

Total cash $43.14-million

Public in-kind donations $6.86-million

TOTAL REVENUE $50-million

Expenditures

Proposal/site selection $520,000

Host committee $1.77-million

RNC housing $1.2-million

Insurance $1-million

Site construction $4.2-million

Site support $7.4-million

Transportation $4.95-million

Technical $5-million

Professional services $1.5-million

Fundraising $500,000

Media/public relations $1.15-million

Security/medical $6.9-million

Special events $3-million

TOTAL BUDGET $39.09-million

CONTINGENCY FUND $10.93-million

_ Source: City of Tampa bid document

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