TAMPA - Improved Internet service, new cellphone towers and more palm trees downtown are some of the improvements made for the Republican National Convention that will become permanent after the delegates are long gone from Tampa. Organizers say these are some of the perks for residents who will have to endure traffic tie-ups, protesters and other inconveniences.
The majority of Americans who watch Mitt Romney accept his party's nomination on TV won't know how much planning has been done. Folks across the nation will see this pomp and circumstance on TV, when the convention is broadcast in prime time from Aug. 27-30. By Sept. 1, they will move on to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., the following week.
Some changes are just for the four days. Banners depicting palm trees against the convention's palette of "rich, deep hues of red and blue, anchored with accents of white" are being unfurled and hung across the city. Fiberglass elephants have been decorated by artists and mounted on walls so protesters can't vandalize or make off with them.
Yet many of the changes will benefit residents and visitors for decades.
Matt Kramer, president of St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, was then-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's chief of staff when the RNC held its convention in St. Paul in 2008. Kramer said that while there were several infrastructure upgrades, there was another kind of boost for the region.
"An event of this magnitude builds a professional level of competency that otherwise would have never occurred," said Kramer, adding that he feels his region is better poised to draw large events now that it has successfully organized a political convention.
Here are some of the larger, permanent projects that the RNC will leave behind in the Tampa Bay area:
— Improvements at the Tampa Bay Times Forum: About $520,000 was spent on upgrading the arena's sound, including the placement of 100,000 square feet of acoustic blankets along the ceiling so delegates inside the convention hall can hear the speeches better. The cost was shared by the Tampa Bay Lightning — the hockey team that calls the venue home — and the RNC. The upgrades won't have much effect on the sound of hockey games, but officials say acoustics during future concerts will be vastly improved. Additionally, the RNC and Lightning are paying to add two additional megawatts of electrical capacity to the venue.
— Phone and data upgrades: AT&T is the official wireless provider for the convention and has spent about $21 million in various upgrades for the RNC alone. The company is erecting three new cell towers to avoid dropped calls and added 300 layers of frequency to cell sites so users can download information faster. Bright House Networks will provide Internet and cable television services and a spokesman says the company has added over 190 miles of single strands of fiber to downtown Tampa to enhance internet capacity. It has also added over 48 miles of indoor data cabling at the forum and Convention Center, where many of the 15,000 members of the worldwide media will work.
— Beautification: The city of Tampa is spending $2.7 million in beautification projects, mostly landscaping around the gateways leading into downtown. New trees, shrubs and flowers are sprouting up everywhere, including Florida's signature tropical symbol, the palm tree. Even St. Petersburg — located across Tampa Bay — put up a new sign with the city's name along an interstate.
— Equipment for law enforcement: Tampa Police received $50 million from Congress to provide security for the RNC. So far, the agency has spent about $13 million on 1,500 radios, 200 bicycles, 13 electric all-terrain vehicles and one armored truck. There's also a slew of other dispatch and communications upgrades so the 4,000 officers on the ground at the RNC — most of them from other departments — can talk to each other. After the convention, the Tampa Police department will keep some of the gear, but some, like the radios and bicycles, will be shared with other area agencies to use.
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