I-Team: RNC's "$175M for Tampa Bay" figure may be exaggerated

Millions go to out of state business, agencies

TAMPA - There's only about two weeks left until the Republican National Convention comes to Tampa. The 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee promises the event will bring $175 million to $200 million dollars to Tampa Bay. But the I-Team found that some of the numbers they used to reach that figure may be exaggerated.

There's no question the RNC means big money to a lot of people. At Ambassador Limousine in Clearwater, President Ken Lucci says they've set up a war room just to deal with all the new business. A typical August week might bring in $70,000 worth of business. We asked him how much he expects to make during the week of the RNC.

"Just about a million," Lucci said.

Lucci says the RNC brings a significant boost to his business at a typically slow time of the year, though he does add that his costs have increased significantly in order to take on the new vehicles and employees.

I asked 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee President Ken Jones whether the RNC really will bring in the $175 million dollars promised. Jones said if anything, the convention appears to be exceeding expectations.

"We targeted 75,000 hotel room nights for this convention. We've already surpassed 90,000 as of yesterday. It's a great surprise," Jones said.

The $175 million dollar figure includes everything from a $50 million dollar security grant from the federal government to the cost of construction at and around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, hotel rooms, taxis, and airfare for thousands of visitors.

I also asked Jones if much of the money they included in the $175 million dollar figure is actually going to parent companies based out of state, such as Marriott or AirTran.

"The answer to that is no. These folks employ local people. You need waiters, you need servers, you need front desk checking clerks, people to clean the rooms, drivers. All that is local economy," Jones said.

But that's just the beginning. The I-Team looked into the security funds from the RNC and found that millions of dollars are going to out of state companies. $1.18 million dollars is being spent on a helicopter video upgrade system made by a California company. $569,000 is being spent on tactical vehicles from Massachusetts. $290,000 is being spent on temporary fencing from a Nashville company.

Organizers claim they can still count it as a local benefit because local contractors are doing much of the work involved and local law enforcement will keep the equipment after the convention.

We also asked about the large number of contingency officers being brought in from outside Tampa Bay. $24 million dollars is being spent on 3,500 to 4,000 officers, though Tampa Police will not say how many officers are coming from out of the area.

Jones says the officers expenses will be spent locally, but didn't deny that some officers' salaries will go to departments outside of Tampa Bay. He says that makes up only a small part of the $175 million dollar figure, however, and doesn't feel the prediction had been exaggerated.

"I guess if you were to think the $175 million was impacting someplace other than Florida, I think your claim would be good. But the fact that we're also going to promote the rest of the state's economy, how is that bad? It's not bad, it's a great thing."

Organizers also say some of the benefits of the RNC can't be counted, including the new business that may come to Florida after the convention.

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