Year of the Elephant: Tampa & RNC 2012

Plans, protests and big bucks: Looking ahead to the Republican National Convention.

click to enlarge ON THE MARCH: Protesters at the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City. - Jonathan McIntosh
Jonathan McIntosh
ON THE MARCH: Protesters at the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City.

Despite Florida's Democratic voter majority, Republicans dominate the state elections. And because the Sunshine State is as critical a battleground as any in the country, it makes sense that the GOP would hold its national convention in Florida.

But it's not just anywhere in Florida, of course — it's in Tampa, where organizers say they're ready for an expected 45,000 people (mostly delegates, reporters and protesters) to jam into the Cigar City the week of August 27, 2012, to observe the Republican Party's 40th national convention. The city was left at the altar in both 2004 and 2008 in its attempts to host the event, but as Mayor Bob Buckhorn would say, "This is our time." So what's going to happen?

Show us the money

When you write about a convention, you've got to employ a lot of dollar signs, since that seems to be really what the whole thing is about: cash.

And optimistic officials with the RNC Host Committee are expecting to bring in a lot of it — a boost to the Tampa Bay economy of approximately $175 million, the bulk of it to be spent on hotels, transportation, food, entertainment and security.

Is that number real? Other cities' track records suggest it could be. A study conducted by the Minneapolis/St. Paul 2008 Host Committee found that the GOP convention generated a direct economic impact of more than $153 million and an indirect impact of an additional $15 million. The Beacon Hill Institute says the 2004 GOP New York City convention generated $163 million.

Meanwhile, there's the money to be raised. The Tampa host committee is committed to $50 million privately — while the group known as the Committee on Arrangements is attempting to raise $18 million more. And Mayor Bob Buckhorn is looking to secure another $55 million from the feds for security.

All this for a four-day ceremony that has become so devoid of drama over the past decade that the broadcast TV networks now only screen one hour of the proceedings each night.

And a Holy Cross study of 18 conventions from 1972-2004 suggests that in fact, local promoters' rosy projections are "overstated," and that these events have had only a "negligible impact" on local economies.

The study, written by Robert A. Baade, Robert Baumann and Victor A. Matheson, says that national conventions may result in large paydays for national restaurant and hotel chains, but "may not result in significant wage gains for local employees."

Host officials scoff at that, and perhaps with good reason.

Let's face it: With its soaring heat and humidity, Florida is hardly the first place that tourists want to visit in late August — the month that puts the "off" in "off-season." Add in overtime hours for contractors, police officers, hotel workers, maintenance workers, and there is going to be a multiplier effect in Tampa Bay.

As for the national chains-vs.-locals arguments, Host Committee Chair Ken Jones uses the example of the Marriott Corporation creating 100 new jobs for the convention. "Does that benefit Florida, or is it just accreting to the bottom line of the corporation in Maryland?" He tends to think it does both.

Defense funding

As mentioned above, the city of Tampa (as well as Charlotte, the host of the Democratic National Convention, which will take place the following week) is requesting $55 million from the federal government for security. Roughly half of that is for personnel costs, the rest for technological improvements.

But is that really necessary, particularly in our new Age of Austerity?

Former Tampa Tribune editor Rosemary Goudreau questions that amount. "Do we have to reinvent the security wheel and the technology that runs it every four years?"

CL posed that question recently to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who said it was "acceptable and reasonable in our country that nowadays we make sure that we provide for a secure perimeter." So apparently the highest levels of the GOP, the party that's demanding we stop the spending, don't have an issue with it when it comes to their own four-day celebration.

Tampa officials plan on hiring 3,000 extra law enforcement officials from other Florida law enforcement agencies, and part of the federal money would go toward housing and feeding those officers throughout convention week.

Goudreau also questions the fact that donations to the Tampa Host Committee are tax-deductible, as the group is officially listed as a 501(c)3. "A political party is not my idea of a charity," she says, comparing their tax-exempt status with that of nonprofit and advocacy groups. "Not for a big party with balloons, streamers and speeches."

Jobs, jobs, jobs?

The 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee will soon launch a "Business Opportunities Initiative" encouraging local businesses to bid on procurement opportunities at the RNC. Needed services include catering, construction, electrical contracting, florists, transportation and many others. Go to the official website ( to sign up.

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