GOP CHOICE A BUSINESS DECISION by Roxanne Escobales

08/22/06

It’s been 34 years since the Republican party descended upon Florida for its national convention. Tampa and St Petersburg have literally rolled out the red carpet to woo the GOP convention to town. But Republican national committee chairwoman Jo Ann Davidson said that while she’s been impressed with the Bay area’s enthusiasm, practical matters will rule any decision in selecting the site for next year’s Republican National Convention.

ACT: You have to be pretty hardnosed and make a business decision

Davidson said the selection depends on which city has the best venue, hotel facilities, tourist attractions, space for the media and necessary transportation. She said 20,500 hotel rooms are needed. While Hillsborough County has 20,000, only 18-hundred are within five blocks of the convention center. Of course, many may choose to stay on the beaches in Pinellas.

Al Austin, the head of the local host committee whose job it is to court the GOP national committee, surprised everyone by announcing that within 15 minutes he managed to raise an additional 7 million dollars to bring the convention to town.

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The original budget for the convention was $124 million, but yesterday it was whittled down to $64. Officials would not reveal where the cutbacks occurred.

Sounding more like a contestant on American Idol than a city official, Austin did not hide behind decorum but expressed his naked desire for Tampa to be chosen.

ACT:

Pundits have noted that the tri-city area’s lack of an efficient public transport system could be a sticky point in getting chosen. RNC chairwoman Davidson admitted that during her three-day stay she hasn’t had the opportunity to ride on buses. But she did venture far enough to say that the Bay area’s mass transit is good.

ACT: trolley… it appears tome you have very good transportation

Davidson said that public transport was only part of the equation. More important was the ability for delegates to be bused in from other areas as they like to travel in groups.

On the question of security, the chairwoman said she felt yesterday’s meeting with the Tampa Police Department assured the committee that the city could handle the crowds and any disturbances that might occur. Having MacDill Air Force Base helps too.

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All in all it was a warm and fuzzy press conference. Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau president Paul Catoe said that the RNC delegation and area officials have become more like friends over the past three days of site visits and schmoozing. Chairwoman Davidson agreed.

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After the press conference Davidson had to catch a plane to Cleveland, which is also in the running along with Minneapolis and New York. A decision will be announced in January.

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