Big turnout expected at Trop welcome event
ST. PETERSBURG - Between 13,000 to 15,000 guests out of 20,000 invitees are expected to attend the 2012 Republican National Convention's welcome party Sunday at Tropicana Field, Host Committee officials said Wednesday. It will be the first time news media and delegates are brought together at an official opening function for a Republican convention in what customarily are separate events. The plan is to draw attention to the Tampa area to entice convention visitors to return, to consider relocating or investing in local business opportunities and to encourage news media to focus on the region. "If the event draws 10,000 to 12,000 people, it will be considered a decent showing," said David Downing, deputy director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Pinellas County's visitors' bureau."It's the first time this event has the synergy of all of the delegates and all of the media. They will all be together on the baseball field." The tourism industry is the mainstay of Pinellas County's economy and draws more than 5 million overnight visitors annually with $3.4 billion in direct expenditures. The Pinellas tourism industry benefits Hillsborough County as well. More than 70 percent of Pinellas overnight visitors who fly into Florida use Tampa International Airport and more than 10 percent of Pinellas beach visitors also head to Busch Gardens. Pinellas County kicked in $600,000 and Hillsborough County $400,000 from bed tax collections to fund Sunday's welcome event. The nonpartisan Host Committee, which has a budget of $55 million to stage convention events, has not said how much Sunday's party will cost. Pinellas County hoteliers will host delegates from 25 states, who will account for the sales of 33,000 room nights. "To have this happening during the slowest week of the summer, the last breath before Labor Day, makes this a real get in terms of economic impact," Downing said. "It's not like this event is displacing other business." Hillsborough County also has a slow summer season, although Tampa hoteliers are doing without business from Tampa Convention Center events for more than 50 days because it is being modified for 15,000 members of the media who will use it for press headquarters. Tropicana Field will be transformed into a secure event venue in less than 24 hours following the Tampa Bay Rays 1:10 p.m. Saturday home game against the Oakland Athletics. The Rays have an unusual Sunday off date, because of the RNC welcome event, before beginning a road trip against the Texas Rangers on Monday. Tropicana Field will be transformed, with screens dropping down over the seats to show videos of local scenes, entertainment stages on the field and plenty of food showcasing local cuisine from Tampa's Cuban sandwiches to Tarpon Springs' Greek dishes. "We are excited about the chance to showcase the Tampa area with local scenes and flavors," said Aileen Rodriguez, Host Committee spokeswoman.
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