Coming to a downtown near you: the 2004 Republican National Convention. Featuring the Bush Brothers, the mother of all security scenarios, anarchist demonstrators, world class traffic jams, media critical of Tampa for not being New York and a government bill for some $12 million.
Not coming to a downtown near you: the Bush Brothers, lots of people in silly hats hanging out of trolleys, red, white and blue bunting forever, direct exposure to international media, de facto status as a global player and $200 million to $300 million in economic impact.
However you label it — “Son of Olympic Pretension” or “Gulf War Super Bowl: A Super Sequel” — this much should be acknowledged. Ambitious, second-tier cities such as Tampa don’t often have such opportunities. When they come along, they shouldn’t be dismissed like so many turn signal-challenged Canadians poking along in the passing lanes.
America’s quadrennial political orgy is worth pursuing. Just not at any price.
To quote Salesman-in-Chief Dick Greco: “Look, we can put this thing on; we have the facilities. But what I’m not familiar with is the types of dollars it takes. You hear all kinds of numbers, none of which are small. We need to assess what the cost is to the county and city. If the answer is ‘too much,’ I have no problem saying, ‘We looked at it, and it won’t work.'”
The numbers — including that $12 million from local governments — range from $40 million to $65 million.
“I’ll be out of here in 10 months,” noted Greco. “I wouldn’t want to saddle somebody with something that can’t work.”
The city — working toward a June 17 deadline for formal bids — is currently debriefing Philadelphia and San Diego, the two most recent GOP Convention hosts, to get a better handle on costs and how the money was raised. Where it’s raised is no secret: corporate coffers and party fat cats. The former is the biggest challenge; this area is hardly a hotbed of headquarters for corporate America.
“That’s the key issue,” acknowledged long-time commercial developer Dick Beard, in reference to the depth and heft of corporate support in the Tampa Bay market. “In order for a corporation to participate, they’d have to have a relationship. I don’t think we have all the answers yet. Would Bank of America, for example, be a player? It’s not yet clear if the business community is 100 percent behind this.
“But I can tell you this,” added Beard, chairman, R.A. Beard & Co., “this is purely a business decision on the part of the city.”
Beard is among the insiders on the bid. He, along with Mayor Greco, Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Paul Catoe, and 18 others recently met with the GOP National Committee in Washington. They came away impressed that the committee seemed impressed with their Powerpoint presentation of the area’s assets, including the Ice Palace, 20,000 hotel rooms, Ybor City and creative use of cruise liners.
“I think we turned their heads,” assessed Catoe. “In fact, the deputy chair (Jack Oliver) went out of his way to sincerely and personally commend us. Very strong accolades for Mayor Greco and Dick Beard. They understand that we have everything logistically that it takes to put this on. Our experience with three past Super Bowls and a Final Four impressed them. And we have the strong support of St. Petersburg. Things like mass transit are non issues; were it otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. They use charter buses.”
Also part of the contingent that traveled to Washington was Margie Kincaid, Hillsborough County chairman, Republican Party of Florida. The veteran Republican official may be second only to Greco in sheer effusiveness about Tampa. But she puts away the chamber of commerce pom-poms when it comes to hardball politics.
It’s a given that the political parties don’t just look at hotels, restaurants, attractions and modes of transportation when choosing a national convention site. A political quid pro quo is always factored in. Whereas a Republican convention in Los Angeles or New York City won’t likely change where their state’s electoral votes go, the same can’t be said of a Florida venue. Chadfest 2000 is still seared into the body politic. It’s no secret the president must carry Florida to be re-elected.
“This will be the battleground for the president’s re-election,” said Kincaid. “The Democrats will throw everything at this state. In fact, it’s why I think the Democrats will pick Miami. It’s also why the Republicans will pick Tampa. Hillsborough is a bellweather county. So goes Hillsborough, so goes the state. And nation, if you recall.
“By the way, Paul Catoe is my hero. I’ve never seen such a beautiful presentation. And Greco was really good. And that was the place to be really good.”
And Greco, she hastened to remind, is a Democrat who supported George W. Bush for president.