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    GOP checks ships as convention site

    Republican National Committee officials get a look at Tampa's plan to use ships as hotels if the city lands the convention.

    By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 31, 2002

    TAMPA -- National Republican Party officials keep returning to Tampa and not just to campaign for Gov. Jeb Bush .

    Two officials from the Republican National Committee visited Monday to look at using cruise ships as hotel rooms for the 2004 Republican National Convention.

    Tampa remains one of the three finalists to land the convention, one of the biggest political events in the world. The other contenders are New York and New Orleans.

    Tampa's proposal to host the convention includes using cruise ships docked in Channelside to provide about 2,000 hotel rooms.

    In August, when the full RNC committee that will select a convention city visited, they didn't get to tour any cruise ships. Some of the members asked questions about how the cruise ships would be used.

    So two officials returned this week to tour the Sensation. They also flew to Fort Lauderdale to meet with officials with Landry & King, a Coral Gables firm that plans corporate events on large ships.

    After stopping in South Florida on Sunday night, two RNC officials arrived in Tampa, where they dined at Bern's Steak House with Tampa organizers, said Paul Catoe, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau.

    On Monday, they toured the Sensation, ate lunch on the ship and stopped by the St. Pete Times Forum.

    "You can do anything on a cruise ship that you can do on a hotel," Catoe said. "They have auditoriums, nightclubs, large dining rooms and a lot of space you can have functions in."

    The officials didn't say what they thought of the ships.

    "No one is going to do anything, say anything or indicate anything until after the election," Catoe said.

    Then, RNC officials will begin negotiating financial terms with one or more of the cities.

    By the end of the year, top RNC officials probably will know which city will get the convention. A decision could be announced in December or January.

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