The Republican National Convention could not have chosen a better spot for this year’s heated election event than Tampa. With Florida being a crucial state in previous elections, this location was the perfect way to sway unsure voters. You may think Florida is the state to go for a quiet retirement, which could be true, but Tampa is a city known for a young fun-loving crowd. Keeping the area busy year-round are colleges such as the University of Tampa and University of South Florida, a wide range of bars and restaurants, and the annually anticipated Gasparilla which is basically a drunken pirate fest similar to Mardi Gras. With so much going on, Tampa officials made sure to plan months in advance for the RNC, re-vamp the town, and excitedly prepare local businesses to expect a drastic economy boost. So was the RNC everything the city hoped for?
Tampa Convention Center
Part of the preparation for the RNC included taking necessary safety measures. The event took place at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center both located in downtown, both locking out anyone without passes or credentials. Most entry-ways to the downtown were blocked off, and fenced blockades surrounded the downtown hotels and buildings, including a local elementary school which was closed for the week. One downtown office employee shared that law enforcement warned him and his co-workers not to work past 2 p.m. on the days of the convention. According to Tampa Bay Online, the city also planned for 15,000 protestors, which meant clearing out the local jail of one thousand spaces for potential protestor inmates.
Hurricane Day One
With Hurricane Isaac approaching, Day One of the RNC was cancelled due to the weather predictions, though when venturing downtown that day I still noticed packs of law enforcement officers on each corner. Tampa residents know that hurricane warnings typically mean nothing, since the last major inundation struck Tampa in 1921.
However, the storm warnings may have scared off convention goers, as only 500 protesters showed up for the remaining three days of the convention. Businesses remained positive, and one of the local bartenders said he hoped that with the cancellations, the convention goers would get bored and seek out the local bars and restaurants for entertainment. Instead, guests stocked up on canned goods, batteries, water and hid in their hotel rooms.
The following three days of the convention were, well hot, but hurricane-free, and the overall ambience of Tampa was pleasant, lacking the anticipated chaos. Police officers were friendly with guests, even with protestors, and some went as far to joke about how a riot needed to happen to cure their boredom. With thousands of media and political celebrities present, there was no avoiding some of the more upbeat events going on.
In Channelside, a plaza of restaurant venues overlooking the water, MSNBC hosted the Chris Matthews Hardball Show live everyday at 5 p.m. open to the crowd.
MSNBC Live Show
As a free show open to the public everyone got excited to get their 15 minutes of fame as an audience member on national TV. At the Straz Performing Arts Center, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was being filmed.
Huffington Post Oasis
Media outlets such as the Huffington Post, CNN, and Politico, took over local venue space to make their own invite-only private parties for delegates and media. These custom venues were mouth watering to those without credentials or invites itching to get in.
The Politico Hub
The Politico Hub hosted a broader range of guests, allowing me access into their venue on the ninth floor of the Rivergate Tower, to see what all the fuss was about. Ah, open bar, big screen TV’s, a beautiful view of downtown, and some celebrity guests including Angus Jones, who is no longer recognizable at age 18.
Other personable celebrity spottings throughout the weeks events included Jon Voight, Anderson Cooper, Chuck Todd, and multiple state governors.
Platt Street Bridge
So the answer is: No, the RNC was not everything Tampa expected it to be. In the South Tampa/Hyde Park Patch, The Metro Restaurant and Lounge discussed their disappointment that their business revenue not only didn’t improve, but declined during last week’s events. They speculated that due to all the security, maybe consumers were scared to go downtown, in addition to losing guests by instilling the fear of Hurricane Isaac. In the same article, the Tampa mayor stated that there are some businesses that did improve, but not as much as they had hoped. With the temporary venues such as the CNN Grill and the Huffington Post Oasis being the “hot spots” of downtown, the night life seemed to be already planned out for delegates and celebrities. Additionally with the 12-14 hour work days, some worn out media staff said they were tired and preferred to just crash at their hotel rather than try to explore the night life.
And out of the 500 protestors, were there a thousand arrests? Well, obviously not. Though I had no personal encounters with protestors, most law enforcement officers seemed surprised at the lack of criminal behavior among the groups. According to the Tampa Bay Times, only three people were arrested during the whole convention. If nothing else, that is a low number that the city can be proud of.
All photos by Katie Krieger.