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Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017
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Weary residents bid RNC farewell

TAMPA - Red, white and blue balloons were still cascading onto the convention floor late Thursday at the Forum when locals lighted up Twitter and Facebook with their own special farewell. Hit the road, RNC. Thunderous cheers for presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a torrent of 100,000 balloons and the pounding beat of James Brown's "Living in America" couldn't drown out frustration from weary Tampa area residents. A week of barricaded government buildings, traffic jams and colossal security had grown old for many not directly involved with the convention. Some area residents acted as if delegates and media were relatives on the verge of overstaying their welcome.
"It's over! Thank God. Can I please have my city back now?!" Billy Jolie of Tampa said on Twitter. The criticisms were not universal: Officials, volunteers and the business community cheered the city all week, not unlike Romney supporters who tweeted with glee about their nominee. "Great to see all #RNC protests peaceful with very FEW arrests! Great job Tampa keeping citizens safe! Tampa Bay shines over&over&over AGAIN!," wrote Eric Jansen of Lakeland. But social media showed the fatigue that comes from hosting an event of this magnitude. Preconvention, officials compared the RNC to four consecutive days of hosting a Super Bowl, but some local businesses struggled to find the expected surge in customers. "Okay #RNC2012 team make sure you leave some $'s behind in #Tampa for the small businesses that welcomed you," wrote Blanche Gainey of St. Petersburg. Thursday night's annoyance on social media coincided with a massive transformation of Tampa's downtown streets, starting just after midnight. Sure, there was a final collection of protesters who taunted giddy-but-tired conventioneers as they headed out of the credentials-only zone. But like most conflicts during the four-day event, it ended without significant incident. Within an hour, city crews were ready to clean up. Many revelers appeared ready to head home. Out-of-town police pulled in for extra duty all week directed traffic on and off Harbour Island. Empty tractor-trailers lined Jackson Street, waiting to be filled with massive tents, generators and associated gear necessary to transform the Forum. Visitors leaving private RNC soirees walked along Kennedy Boulevard, the women holding their heels in one hand and waving down cabs with the other. By dawn, bright orange barricades that dominated on-ramps and exits along the Selmon Expressway had disappeared. An admittedly tired Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor announced bridges and streets closed for a week would be clear by midday. Traffic trouble wasn't the only thing locals were over. Having to endure so many RNC visitors with a distinct political bent exasperated those who lean in other ideological directions. Friday was a day of relief for Caroline Calcote of St. Petersburg. "Biking to the gym and wearing my #Obama shirt to celebrate the GOP exodus from #TampaBay. #Fitfluential #Pro," she wrote on her Twitter feed. The sudden change was just fine for locals and downtown workers who left their usual digs for a week. Everyone is ready for a long weekend and a chance to see the RNC in the rearview mirror. They said it again and again. The exhaustion in many ways is mutual. Political pundits and the media shifted gears to Charlotte, N.C., host to next week's Democratic National Convention. The whirlwind romance that took two years to build up to is over. California-based political journalist Jason Gagnon summed it with a sincere but snarky so-long as he departed Tampa International Airport on Friday. "Thanks Tampa, it was real ... humid #RNC12."

Brittany Cerny and Sam Dolson contributed to this report. mshedden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7365 Twitter @maryshedden
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