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Tampa glories over choice

Making the short list to host the GOP's 2004 convention leads to much back-slapping, but few details about the costs.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 19, 2002


Making the short list to host the GOP's 2004 convention leads to much back-slapping, but few details about the costs.

TAMPA -- At the wood-paneled club inside the Ice Palace, the powers-that-be Thursday were clearly pumped.

Mayor Dick Greco was comparing this Gulf Coast city and its new waterfront condos to Manhattan.

"Tampa has arrived," said Al Austin, a developer who has spent years building the city's West Shore business district.

Tampa leaders were thrilled that their city had survived the latest cut in the competition to host the 2004 Republican National Convention, one of the biggest political events in the world.

But amid the back-slapping, local leaders were offering few details about how much the convention would cost and how much taxpayers could pay.

Greco hoped the convention would cost taxpayers nothing, although organizers had estimated earlier it could cost the public about $10-million.

Organizers would not release a preliminary convention budget that the city has submitted to the Republican National Committee. They said they hope to do that next week.

The budget includes an estimate on what taxpayers might pay.

"We want to make sure we don't do anything to jeopardize our position," Austin said.

GOP leaders announced Wednesday night that they soon will visit Tampa, New Orleans and New York City to evaluate which can best host the convention.

Organizers have two weeks to get ready for a visit from the national Republican convention site selection committee.

They must present a plan to raise $50-million, mostly from corporate donors. They must show how much taxpayers will help and prove that Tampa has all that the GOP needs.

"Can we do it? Of course," Greco said. "Hopefully it will cost the taxpayers little or nothing. Certainly, the city is not able to write a check."

At the last Republican National Convention, city leaders in Philadelphia promised that private donors would pay most of the costs. But taxpayers ended up picking up 59 percent of the tab, or about $38.9-million.

Ten weeks before the 2004 convention, the winning city and host committee must present the GOP with a letter of credit that guarantees all costs.

The Republican Party needs "a high degree of comfort that the (city) will actually accomplish what they say they will accomplish," said Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas, who sits on the RNC's 11-member executive committee. "Neither the state party nor the national party wants to dig into its own pockets."

The costs include free use of the Ice Palace, free use of the publicly owned Tampa Convention Center, free use of security, lighting and telecommunications consultants and a promise that the GOP will have dibs on 20,000 hotel rooms.

The city or host committee also must pay for other perks, such as providing the GOP with an office, housing and air-conditioned shuttle services for months before the convention begins.

They must make sure that hotels don't charge extra for food, and guarantee that taxi, limousine and bus fares won't rise.

Developer Dick Beard, one of the effort's co-chairmen, said cost estimates are preliminary.

He acknowledged feeling overwhelmed Wednesday when he learned that Tampa had made the short list.

Beard said he thought: "Oh, my gosh, what have we done?" "It's happening quickly," Beard said Thursday, "but I know we are up to the task."

Greco even boasted that Tampa could offer Republicans more than New York City. The traffic gridlock on Interstate 275 doesn't compare to a ride across town in Manhattan, he said.

"How long does it take you in New York?" Greco said, adding quickly, "I'm not downgrading any other city or anything."

Later, he pointed out how expensive hotels are in Manhattan.

"A lot of people can't afford $300 or $400 a night like you do in New York," Greco said. In Tampa, "you can bring the kids. You can make a vacation out of it."

-- Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Adam Smith contributed to this report. David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

The GOP heavyweights

The city of Tampa formally made a bid for the 2004 Republican National Convention, but a private group of Republicans will do much of the fundraising to pay for the convention. Here are the leaders:

AL AUSTIN, 73, Tampa developer and chairman of The Austin Companies. Chairman of the Hillsborough Aviation Authority, which runs Tampa International Airport. Finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

ROBERT D. BASHAM, 55, co-founder, president and chief operating officer of Outback Steakhouse Inc. The company has given more than $1-million to Republican political candidates and causes.

RICHARD A. "DICK" BEARD III, 58, real estate adviser with R.A. Beard Co. and chairman of the board of trustees of the University of South Florida. Former finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

J. PATRICK "RICK" MICHAELS, 58, chairman and CEO of Communications Equity Associates, a media company in Tampa. Past chairman, Republican Regents 2001-2002; past member, Budget Oversight Committee of the Republican National Committee; executive committee, 2001 Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Other members of the executive committee are: architect Carlos Alfonso; Robert Fagan, president and CEO, TECO Energy Inc.; William Habermeyer, president of Florida Power Corp.; former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, a consultant at the Carlton, Fields law firm; Clarence McKee, McKee Communications; Ed Turanchik, former head of Florida 2012. Other members include the top corporate officers of the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune.

What it will take

Here's what the Republican National Committee requires a city and host committee to provide for free:

Letter of credit covering all costs, available to be drawn 10 weeks before convention.

Convention hall for 20,000 people, including 5,000 delegates, with sky boxes.

Media center of 350,000 square feet.

75,000 square feet of additional convention rooms for meetings.

Parking for 1,500 cars and 300 buses.

Use of all city auditoriums, museums, parks, marinas and facilities.

3,000 square feet of office space for GOP to use more than a year before convention.

Housing for GOP staff for a year prior to convention.

Air-conditioned shuttle service between hotels and facilities for four months before convention.

Lighting consultant of GOP's choice.

Sound consultant of GOP's choice, plus use of city sound engineers and technicians.

Telecommunications consultant of GOP's choice.

Security consultant of GOP's choice and use of local law enforcement.

5,000 upholstered seats on convention floor.

Guarantee of 20,000 first-class hotel rooms and 2,000 one- and two-bedroom suites under sole control of GOP.

Reservations of six nights with $100 deposit.

About 500 hotel rooms provided to GOP.

Meeting rooms and ballrooms at hotels for convention business.

Guarantee that cost for food and beverages at hotels must be at best price available 18 months before convention.

Guarantee that taxi, limousine and bus rates be no higher than rate in effect 18 months before convention.

Liability insurance coverage of $25-million before the convention and $100-million during convention.

All sale of souvenirs controlled by GOP.

All catering contracts and vending controlled by GOP.

At least 8,000 volunteers.

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