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GOP ASKS TAMPA TO BID ON 2012

Money may pose a major problem to hosting the Republican National Convention.

Twice Tampa has been rejected by the GOP in its search for a city to host the Republican National Convention.

But the party still wants to know whether local leaders want to bid for the event in 2012.

National party chairman Michael Steele sent a letter to Mayor Pam Iorio at the end of August inviting Tampa to make a pitch.

"Hosting a national convention is a major undertaking that requires a substantial amount of planning and a significant financial commitment," Steele wrote. "We hope you will be able to submit an official bid and place your city under consideration."

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee declined to say how many cities were asked to bid, but in 2006, the invitation went to 31 cities. They began the site-selection process six months earlier than last time around.

An "interested cities" meeting is scheduled for Nov. 10 in Washington, D.C. The deadline to submit proposals is Jan. 10.

Tampa was one of three finalists for the 2004 convention, but lost out to New York. Local Republican leaders consoled themselves at the time with the thought that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, choosing that city made a strong patriotic statement.

Tampa also was a finalist for the 2008 convention, but the GOP chose Minneapolis/St. Paul instead, saying they were concerned about hurricanes threats during the September event.

Both times, Tampa developer and Republican fundraiser Al Austin led the effort to bring the convention to his hometown.

"I would be willing to work on it one more time. Most of the heavy lifting has been done," Austin said.

Austin predicts the GOP will have a hard time getting cities to bid on the event in this tight economy. Fundraising could be difficult, he said, and state and local governments are likely to be reluctant to commit tax dollars to the venture when their revenues are shrinking.

Local organizers estimated hosting the 2008 convention, which had a price tag of $124 million, would cost taxpayers about $85 million from local, state and federal sources. Iorio had pledged to cap the city's contribution at $1 million in in-kind services.

A private campaign hoped to raise $40 million.

Iorio did not return calls for comment.

Travis Claytor, a spokesman for Tampa Bay & Company, the county's convention and visitors bureau, said the organization is looking to local officials for direction.

"At this juncture, we are getting with the mayor's office as well as the county and our board of directors to see how best to proceed," he said. "It's very preliminary in the process."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

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