Tampa, Florida - They were supposed to start arriving this weekend; thousands of visitors made plans to fly into Tampa on Saturday for a week-long national defense convention.
The chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce told 10 News that nearly 10,000 people would have poured into the city limits, ready to spend money, see the sights, and talk defense strategy.
The GEOINT 2013 Symposium was touted as a massive meeting of the minds among thousands of military members, defense contractors, intelligence specialists, and government workers.
But the government shutdown has shut it down for now.
"This is disappointing," said Greg Celestan, the chamber chair. "We've been planning this for a year. I got the call last night. All that time and money down the tubes."
The convention would have filled thousands of hotel rooms, bringing in well over $5 million, experts say. Nearly every hotel was booked downtown, ready and waiting for convention visitors this weekend.
And, sadly, this was Tampa's first shot to host the event, a convention that has been held in San Antonio and Orlando in the past.
Celestan said, "We were so excited to host everyone. Then, they would go back to their cities and tell people about Tampa. With the RNC, it shows that Tampa can host a convention of this size."
With 72 hours until the weekend, it will be impossible to fill all of those hotel rooms near the convention center. In addition, restaurants like Hattrick's were looking forward to additional business, while spots like Jackson's were booked for events. The Tampa Convention Center will sustain losses from this to the tune of nearly a million dollars, experts say.
At an event Wednesday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, "This is ridiculous," referring to the current status of Washington. "This would have been great for our city."
With the government shutdown, certain employees are not allowed to travel or attend events. This one, specifically, had been approved as far back as a year. But, with the recent developments in Washington, there are now certain constraints limiting government workers.
Celestan himself is a former member of the military and currently a defense contractor at his company, Celestar Corporation. The Westpoint-educated businessman spent much of his time in the Army overseas and is fluent in Russian. He said the importance of building bonds and relations with others is crucial for the city of Tampa.
"This is negative, and we're not happy. But, we will try to do this again. They have rescheduled for next spring. But, this would have been a perfect time to do it here and now. It doesn't make up for the lost tourism dollars."