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Public help also sought in Miami's 2004 bid

Civic leaders steering Miami's bid for the 2004 Democratic National Convention are asking for even more public money than Tampa organizers say they need to stage the GOP's gathering.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas has the County Commission's blessing to go after up to $37-million in public funds for the Democratic fete that has a total budget of about $50-million.

Tampa's promoters estimate they will need $21.8-million in public money and in-kind donations to make their $50-million budget. That level of taxpayer support is considerably higher than their initial $10-million estimate, and is not sitting well with many of the leaders who would have to pony up the public's cash.

Both cities' groups will be lobbying the Legislature to kick in as much as $10-million in state money to help stage each convention, if both the Republicans and Democrats decide to come to Florida in 2004.

Tampa is on the GOP short list with New Orleans and New York. Miami is a finalist for the Democratic National Convention, along with New York, Baltimore, Detroit and Boston.

Lobbying the Legislature for the funds will be a bipartisan effort, tourist industry trade groups say. The united front is expected to double the political pressure on lawmakers, who will be told that each convention will bring an estimated $100-million in direct spending to the host area.

"Without the state helping with the bills, there is no way either one of these conventions are going to be held in Florida," said Alfredo Mesa, a spokesman for Penelas.

"It's a big ticket, but it's a big event," said Bill Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Like Tampa, Miami promoters hope to split the costs among several government agencies and tourist bureaus. To ease the sticker shock, Miami-Dade officials plan to spread their fundraising over the next two budget years.

It's the same strategy that Tampa's GOP host committee will use to raise up to $50-million, according to preliminary fundraising plans and other details released Friday.

Local Republicans, who will form a nonprofit group to raise money for the convention, hope to gather about $28-million in private donations. The fundraising will crank up quickly _ even before Tampa knows if it officially wins the bid. By next March, planners hope to have raised more than $1-million.

They also plan to go to the Legislature next spring to seek the state money, which they hope would be distributed in two $5-million payments in 2003 and 2004.

To spread out the burden, organizers would ask for tourism taxes from local agencies over three years. That would make it more manageable for tourism agencies, which have seen hotel tax collections drop since Sept. 11.

"There is no one who understands (better) how bad things are than we do," said Paul Catoe, president of the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is primarily funded through tourism taxes. "But we think it's going to get better."

Organizers initially tried to keep secret Tampa's bid documents, which include the cost estimates. They then let reporters see them briefly _ though not make copies _ after they requested it as a public record.

But Catoe balked at giving reporters more access, and at one point he said he intended to remove the document from his offices.

The same day, Andrew Barnes, chairman and chief executive officer of the St. Petersburg Times, who had served on the local GOP host committee, resigned from the group over the dispute.

On Friday, host committee co-chairman Dick Beard hand-delivered the bid documents to Barnes and asked him to come back on board. Barnes accepted.

"The problem is resolved. I'm glad it was done amicably," Barnes said. "We still believe the convention will be good for Tampa Bay."

_ David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or karpsptimes.com.

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