Host Committee says 2012 RNC brought back more than $214 million to Tampa Bay area

The study said the total economic impact was over $404 million

click to enlarge Tampa 2012 RNC Host Committee Chairman Ken Jones and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn at Jackson's Bistro. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Tampa 2012 RNC Host Committee Chairman Ken Jones and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn at Jackson's Bistro.

The organizers responsible for bringing the Republican National Convention to Tampa last August said the event brought in more than $214 million in direct expenditures to the Tampa Bay Area, exceeding the estimated $150-175 million totals projected last summer.

At a news conference at Jackson’s Bistro on Harbour Island, Ken Jones, the CEO of the Host Committee for the convention, said the intent of organizers was threefold: to put Tampa on the world stage, “unlike it had ever been on the world stage before”; to show that Tampa is a viable host of other big events; and to infuse hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.

The economic report was produced by University of Tampa Economics professor Brian T. Kench, and was performed by using what is called the IMPLAN economic model, which looks at incremental impacts as economic activity. Kench's study showed that the total economic impact of the 2012 RNC came out to $404.3 million.

Jones called the study “intellectually honest,” saying it took into account what is known as “negative substitution effects," which means that a portion of the spending at the convention is by locals who would have spent that money in the city anyway.

Even though the positive economic numbers were the objective of the press conference, no one mentioned the fact that Tampa's reputation wasn't exactly enhanced by last August's event. The first day of the convention was canceled because of inclement weather, with the rest of the week featuring typically outlandishly hot and humid days, one of the most discussed topics by visitors who attended.

Excessive security at the Tampa Bay Times Forum was also derided, with veteran broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw saying that it was the most severe security he had ever observed in his near 50-year career. Tampa received $50 million from the federal government for security, the same amount given to New York City in 2004, just three years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Yet Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city needed every penny of it, comparing the protests in Tampa that resulted in just two arrests to what happened four years earlier in St. Paul, where 800 hundred people were arrested for protesting at that convention.

"I can live with the criticism that we overdeployed, because I couldn't sleep at night had I not done what we did, and the alternative had occurred. Because I can tell you, had the alternative occurred, and had there been mayhem and chaos, that would have damaged our economic development efforts for decades."

When asked about the medias reaction and comments from critics like Jon Stewart, Buckhorn was unrepentant.

"We weren't an armed camp, we were a safe city. Jon Stewart talks about great flying cockroaches that eat human beings, so put it in perspective."

CL also reported last month that marketing data collected by Visit Tampa Bay showed that the convention didn't change Americans' minds about the city. A survey of 1,000 leisure travelers from across the country placed Tampa dead last in “authenticity” among nine American cities considered competitors for the same tourists.

Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, name checked a number of corporations that are now doing business in Tampa since the RNC (such as Copa airlines, Bristol Myers Squibb and the Indian International Film Awards). When asked if he could attribute any of those successes directly to the RNC, Homans said that when his team is making economic pitches to corporations, the RNC always comes up.

"Did somebody say 'I saw you had the convention, I want to move my business?'" he asked. "Economic development doesn't work that way."

Not every local business reaped the benefits from the convention. In fact, most of the local eateries in downtown Tampa complained vociferously that they missed out big-time. "We tried to tamp down expectations going into it," Buckhorn said of the hype surrounding the convention. "We knew some folks would make that decision not to come downtown ... there is nothing that we could have done to change that."

Sitting in the front row watching but not speaking was the man perhaps most single-handedly involved in getting the 2012 RNC in Tampa (after blowing off similar efforts in 2004 and 2008): Al Austin.

The Tampa Bay Host Committee spent more than $52 million on the convention. The members said there is $3 million left over that they will ultimately distribute to local nonprofits, once they get the final audit by the Federal Elections Commission.

Last week, the Republican National Committee announced that Phoenix, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Kansas City and Las Vegas are among the cities in the mix to bid for the 2016 RNC. Ken Jones said he hasn't heard any RNC officials calling for a return to Tampa.

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