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Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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Businesses want RNC parade rerouted

TAMPA - A parade down glamorous Bayshore Boulevard, it is not. The official 0.7-mile route for protesters and celebrants of the Republican National Convention in August winds back and forth through some of the most desolate and abandoned parts of downtown Tampa: empty lots, an industrial flour mill, under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway (twice), and along open fields with discount parking for downtown workers who don't mind walking a few blocks to the actual downtown. Now that the City of Tampa has officially drawn that route, the few business owners along the way are finding they'll have a front-row seat for any officially sanctioned protest marches. Most aren't happy about it. "How's anyone going to get here?" asked Paul's Auto Alignment owner Nelson Castallano, standing in the open maintenance pit under a brown Nissan Altima and waving a wrench. "We might as well close for that week. Will anyone compensate us for that?"
The route officially starts on brick-paved Washington Street at Brush Street, and goes past the Rampello School, which plans to close for the week. It then passes an electrical substation and several parking lots, devoid of a single convenience store, restaurant or major company. At one point, the parade walkers will pass the single-story law office of Alley, Clark & Greiwe, which has about a dozen lawyers and staff specializing in medical lawsuits involving pharmaceuticals and hip replacement problems. "We've known for some time we'd be in the hot zone," said Jim Clark. "We'll all be working remotely that week." The route then passes the Allegra Printing & Imaging shop, owned by Joel Routman, whose frustration with the RNC event grows each day. "No one is telling us anything," Routman said. "We're on the official vendor list, so anyone who needs printing for the RNC can come here. But if all the streets are closed around us for this route, how would any customers get here, and how would we get out? We might as well close for the week." Not until the route turns south at Morgan Street does it pass a walk-in business: Gilligan's. General manager Ian Brooke said he was never approached by the RNC to host any parties or events. "By the time I did find out there was a list," he said, "they said you're two weeks too late." The route then turns south on Morgan Street for one block, then pulls a U-turn and goes directly back east again on Whiting Street, where there are more surface parking lots: some paved, some gravel with grass and weeds growing sparsely. There's a single-story warehouse-style building with the Underground nightclub, and then the route crosses back under the expressway — again. Under that bridge is one of three designated parade "viewing areas," or official zones where protesters can have their say. Then the route makes a sharp turn south along Nebraska Avenue, and passes the ConAgra industrial flour mill at Finley Street, which makes and sells flour for wholesale customers and Sam's Club under the brand name Eagle Mills, Ultragrain. City Attorney James Shimberg said they tried to balance a number of factors in picking the route. First, case law suggests the route must go within sight and sound of the convention site. However, the city also didn't want to disrupt the main arterial roads used by downtown commuters. That ruled out designating Ashley Drive or Bayshore Boulevard a parade route for the whole week. Theoretically, anyone can still walk his or her own protest parade elsewhere, Shimberg said, although police will try to "direct" protesters to use the official route. Protesters will need to reserve a 90-minute window online in advance on the City's website, and Shimberg expects windows of time between parades will let police keep many roads open for traffic. The parade route officially ends at Walton Street bordering the largest viewing area, an empty lot that's occasionally used for overflow parking during special events at the Forum, where the RNC will actually hold its convention. At that corner, there's a large oak tree, three bungalow homes and a lone two-unit rental apartment, all owned and rented out by Eddie Diaz, who is especially frustrated because his insurance policy might not cover any damage related to the events. "I'm not trying to be greedy, but I need to have some kind of insurance," said Diaz, a lifelong Democrat who is active in local politics. "God forbid a fire happens, I want to know who will pay for replacement." Three of the four homes he rents out have tenants, and he's telling each one they probably can't rely on driving or parking at the houses. He also owns a small open lot, and looked into parking a food cart there for the festivities – especially because thousands of protesters, politicos and media could descend on the city for the week. "The city wouldn't let me because I don't have a vendor's license," Diaz said, "and they wouldn't issue me one."

rmullins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7919

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