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Tampa 2012

The 2012 Republican
National Convention

Aug. 27-30, 2012
St. Pete Times Forum

» 45,000 to 50,000 — Projected number of visitors

» 15,000 — Members of the media expected

» 5,000-6,000 —?Number of delegates (including 2,500 alternates)

» $55 million —?Amount the Tampa Bay Host Committee aims to raise

» $175 million to $200 million — Projected economic boost to the Tampa Bay region

» $400 — Amount per day that the average convention-goer is expected to spend

» 75 —?Number of event venues already under contract

» 15,000 — Number of hotel rooms reserved under the name Ken Jones, president of the host committee

» $55 million — Federal government's share of convention-related security costs

» 7,500 — Number of volunteers

» $18,000 to $34,000 — Cost of broadcast suites at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul

» 350 — Number of charter buses that will be used during the convention week

» 10,000 — Estimated number of protesters organizers speculate could show up at the event

» 1972 — The last time either political party held its nominating convention in Florida. That year, both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention were held in Miami.

Business 'Sherpas'

Washington, D.C.-based GOP Convention Strategies hired consultants Renee Dabbs and Adam Goodman to help coordinate local events. [Photo: Brook Pifer]

Many think of a national party convention in terms of the prime-time activity within the convention hall — fiery speeches delivered to a sea of raucous red-, white- and blue-clad delegates in goofy hats. In fact, the scripted goings-on are just a small slice of the convention experience. For most attendees, the real action takes place at the brunches, lunches, cocktail hours, galas and soirees where convention-goers get to rub shoulders with lawmakers and hobnob with VIPs.

GOP consultants Adam Goodman and Renee Dabbs understand the business opportunity implicit in that fact. The Hyde Park bungalow that houses their political strategy firm is just a mile from where all the action will be when 45,000-plus Republicans descend on Tampa next August to coronate their presidential candidate. That proximity — as well as their political savvy and local connections — made them the perfect Tampa-based partners for GOP Convention Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that provides strategic planning services for organizations and individuals attending the Republican National Convention.

"We see our job during this four-day event as sherpas, armed with an insider's perspective on what's hot and what's not, where to go and what to do and how to navigate through the political maze that's never spelled out in the official program," says Dabbs, who has been meeting with groups from around the country, taking them on tours of the city and scouting out potential venues for events.

GOP Convention Strategies offers an array of services to client attendees, including event planning, production assistance and setting up lodging, transportation, security and staffing. The firm also helps with convention budgeting and can handle event fundraising.

Goodman — who has worked for former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, former Gov. Jeb Bush and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others — says that in addition to helping his clients "navigate the process," he hopes to serve as a "matchmaker" for groups and organizations. A delegation from one state, for example, may want to host a cocktail event for 350 people, but Goodman says it can just as easily pool its financial resources with another group and throw a party for 1,000 people featuring a name-brand rock band. Ultimately, Goodman says, it's all about "building relationships."

Making Connections

For the Republican Party, the convention in Tampa is an opportunity to showcase the GOP presidential nominee. For the Tampa Bay Host Committee, the GOP extravaganza is a chance to show off the Tampa Bay region and Florida before a captive audience of thousands of attendees from 49 other states for four days.

"We want to make sure we project a favorable image and business climate to all of the delegates and guests and visitors that will be here the week of the convention," says Ken Jones, president of the host committee.

Kathleen Shanahan
Kathleen Shanahan has been drumming up convention sponsors.
To ensure that Florida companies get the most out of the worldwide media exposure — and to raise the $55 million the committee says its needs to put on a successful convention — the host committee is spearheading an aggressive business outreach program headed up by Kathleen Shanahan, chief of staff for former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Throughout the fall, Jones and Shanahan have been crisscrossing the state, selling a range of customized sponsorship opportunities to Florida companies, including a promotion allowing a company to have its corporate logo emblazoned across the T-shirts of 7,500 volunteers. The host committee also plans to book sponsors for everything from the lanyards that hold attendees' convention credentials, delegate and media gift bags, and even the backs of hotel key cards.

The host committee also has been assembling a vendor directory to give local businesses an opportunity to provide products, services and staffing for the event. Local vendors will be needed to assist with everything from construction and technical build-out to catering and transportation. Businesses interested in adding their names to that database can e-mail info@2012tampa.com.

'Corporate Theater'

Howard Spector's company, Ashley Events, produces special events for political conventions. Spector moved his company to Safety Harbor for the 2012 convention [Photo: Mark Wemple]
Over the past 17 years, Howard Spector has produced events for clients ranging from Burger King to Coca-Cola. His brand of "corporate theater," as he calls it, has landed him several contracts producing annual events and galas for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which ultimately led him into the niche of producing special events for political conventions.

Spector's firm, Ashley Events, produced more than 70 events at each of the party's five-day conventions in 2004 and 2008. His projects at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis included setting up and running then-House Minority Leader John Boehner's office and hospitality suite. He also designed and produced the House Republican Cloak Room, where members of Congress would go to check their e-mail, take a break from the convention floor and "keep up with the business of running the country." His company also designed and produced the media lounge sponsored by Diageo.

Spector's already gearing up for 2012 in Tampa. He recently relocated his business from Washington to Safety Harbor, just across the bay from Tampa, and he's been busy scouting out venues and conducting food tastings for client events. "We're just at the place now where people are figuring out where they want their headquarters to be," he says.

"Everyone in town is going to benefit from this," Spector says, "every car service, every hotel, every catering company. I mean, there are so many tentacles, so many moving parts that make up a convention of this magnitude that everyone can benefit."

Ashley Events
Ashley Events designed and produced the President's Dinner in 2007 Washington, D.C. [Photo: Ashley Events]

Convention Tips

» TICKETS: If you're looking for a ticket to the event, contact the Committee on Arrangements at info@2012tampa.com.

» HOTELS: Need a hotel room for the convention? Register now with the Committee on Arrangements. The Host Committee has reserved more than 15,000 rooms, and the Committee on Arrangements will begin making assignments next spring. E-mail housing@gopconvention2012.com.

» PLANS: If you're looking to have a wedding or a bar mitzvah around the time of the convention, you may want to reconsider. Many of the best venues will be unavailable. The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, for instance, has already imposed a two-week blackout period during the convention so that the facility is available for convention festivities.

» FUNDRAISING: Marian Johnson, vice president of political strategy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says the campaign money chase will be especially challenging next year: "I would advise any state candidate now to raise your money in 2011 because nationally, with the Republican National Convention in Florida and then the national politics of the presidential race and redistricting, you're not going to be able to raise money next year."

Steering Committee

Ambassador Limousines
Ambassador Limousines CEO Ken Lucci is adding 21 limos to handle the convention business he's already lined up. [Photo: Mark Wemple]

The convention's not for a year, but Ken Lucci, CEO and owner of Ambassador Limousines in Clearwater, is already reaping the rewards. Lucci has landed a $528,000 contract to provide ground transportation, security and logistical support for a major corporate sponsor. The same client also has hired his company to provide those services a week later at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., for another $528,000.

Lucci says he is also negotiating with two major media organizations that will need transportation to cover the convention, six event/meeting planners who represent another 20 to 25 clients attending the convention and several others.

Lucci has already made leasing arrangements to boost his fleet of 54 vehicles up to about 75 and plans to start advertising for additional drivers after the first of the year and training them in the spring. He is consulting with transportation companies in Denver and Minneapolis to learn what went wrong and what went right at the 2008 political conventions in those two cities.

The convention couldn't come at a better time of year for Lucci, who notes that his company normally operates at about 50% to 60% capacity in the August off-season.

Price Gouging Off-Limits

Embassy Suites
Embassy Suites, Tampa [Photo: Embassy Suites]

August is usually one of the toughest months for Tampa Bay hoteliers. But that won't be the case next year.

"We're expecting to sell out every day over the convention," says Jeff Weinthaler, general manager of the Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Tampa.

With heightened demand, room prices will get bumped up a bit, Weinthaler says, but convention-goers should not be worried about price gouging. Under their contracts with the RNC, hotels are allowed to raise their room rates "a little bit up" while still trying to be "fair."

How will the convention impact revenue? "What I'm seeing is that without the convention, it might be 5% to 7% growth in revenue (over the previous year). With the Republican National Convention, it will probably be somewhere between 7% and 10%."