Study: 2012 Republican National Convention was a huge economic success for Tampa Bay area, but retailers skeptical

5:39 PM, Aug 20, 2013   |    comments
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The Tampa Bay Times Forum as it appeared for the 2012 Republican National Convention
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Tampa, FL -- A year after the Republican National Convention came to town, officials say they've crunched the numbers and are calling it a huge economic success.

The study was commissioned by the RNC Host Committee, and performed by the Sykes School of Business at the University of Tampa.

The "honest" study, as it was described, says the convention was a financial boom for our region, but that assessment may depend on whether you were a direct part of the big party going on at the Tampa Bay Times Forum where the convention was taking place.

"The number was better than we could have expected," said Host Committee President, Ken Jones.

Jones said tax on sales were up 9.8% the month of the convention compared with the previous August.

The direct and indirect impact of the event, they estimated, was $404,391,774 for the Bay area.

"We look at the RNC as an unmitigated, unquestionable success from an economic development standpoint," said Rick Homans, who heads the Hillsborough County Economic Development Council.

But a 10 News investigation found - and the study confirms - that while industries like hotels saw profits soar, other industries suffered.

Clothing, bars, gift shops, office equipment, restaurants and catering all suffered losses compared with the previous year.

Also, surrounding counties, which had little to do with convention, delivered better sales figure increases than Pinellas and Hillsborough, but their numbers were figured into the average, inflating the final number.

"This side of town was basically fences everywhere," said Charles Brooke, who owns Gilligan's restaurant just a few blocks from the Forum.

Brooke says if he knew then what he knows now, he'd have taken a vacation that week.

"We were hoping for a major event, but it wasn't for this side of town," he said.

"It didn't really generate nearly what they were talking about it was going to," said Nate Weaver, who manages the Surf Down Under store in Channelside.

Weaver says the convention was a flop for them too. They could see the Forum from their store, but saw almost none of its visitors because they were fenced-off. And when the events were finished for the day, "They were shuttled right back to their hotels," said Weaver.

Disgruntled businesses say if there was a way to spread the wealth, they wouldn't mind the Tampa Bay area hosting another convention.

But Mayor Bob Buckhorn says while you can always find things you would have done differently in hindsight, he sleeps well knowing the same security lock-down made for a smooth event with the world's eyes on Tampa.

"For the most part I would do it exactly the same way again given the opportunity," said Buckhorn.

The exposure from the RNC is also paying dividends beyond the money already spent.

Before the convention, they say a survey showed 46% of people had a positive view of our region.

A week later, after world-wide exposure, that same survey found an 89% positive view.

Officials say successfully hosting the convention is what helped them land the Bollywood awards next June, and makes Tampa Bay much more of a competitor for big events going forward.

The host committee also spent about $3 million less than anticipated. They expect that overage will be distributed to local charities in the Bay area by the end of the year.

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