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Warning: Plan for alternate routes, extra time during RNC

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RNC begins August 27 in Tampa. The impact will be felt around the Bay area.

By PENNY FLETCHER

SOUTH COUNTY- No matter how well they plan or how many contingency strategies the city, county and state put into place, when it comes to how to find your way to where you’re going in Tampa during the Republican National Convention, it’s anybody’s guess.

Ali Glisson, spokeswoman for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s Public Affairs Office, said there are enough contingency plans in place so whatever scenario actually occurs, emergency vehicles will not be impacted.

“We have so many layers of contingency plans and measures we hope we’re ready for anything,” Glisson told me in a telephone interview Aug. 19.

Several websites are given throughout this story so people can check in advance to see whether their regular route to work (in Tampa) will be affected and also where things like county offices and courts will be held while the convention is taking place.

Although the convention dates are Aug. 27-30, county offices will be closed from Aug. 20-31 to allow for final preparations and cleanup after the convention.

Meanwhile, quotes and suggestions from many county officials have been gathered and listed here in an attempt to help local residents make advance plans.

Willie Puz, client services director for Hillsborough County’s Public Affairs office suggests that anyone first check out www.hillsboroughcounty.org/rnc for anything to do with county business. “There has been a monumental effort between government offices at every level to coordinate,” Puz said. He explained that County Center (downtown on Kennedy Boulevard) will be closed and alternate sites will instead be open in four areas of the county: Brandon, Westgate Plaza (Northwest Tampa); Plant City; and the South Shore Service Center located at 410 30th St. Ruskin. Ruskin should be ready for extra traffic in that area of State Road 674 as people who usually use Tampa for their county business come down State Road 674 from Interstate 75 to turn north on 30th Street, next Sun Point Plaza. Maps and directions to all the offices may be found at www.hepafl.org, Puz said.

While Glisson states that emergency management services will all be on duty according to schedule, Tampa General Hospital has special routes posted on its website www.tgh.org/republican-national-convention-information.asp that will enable people heading there by car to check out expected closed streets and alternate routes now.

County officials say there will be no road work going on during the time county offices are closed but that work already in progress (like closures of areas in progress such as the widening of Boyette Road) must be left closed and will likely be moving slower than usual.

Deborah Warcheski of Tampa Fire Rescue says a Call Center Live Helpline is already operating 24/7 at 866-762-8687. This line has 12 people manning it at all times who are connected to an army of county and state staff. If there are any emergency road closures, events, or warnings not anticipated – such as an automobile accident- this line will have them on file immediately for callers who want to check out their drive before approaching a destination or even when they’re first getting into their cars.

Most of the delegates are being bused into the city from hotels but once they get there, nobody can foresee what they will do, Puz said. “Will they walk? How far will they walk? Where will they eat? We have no way of knowing that.”

Lynn Schulz, director of the Ybor City Saturday Market at Centennial Park on 8th Avenue and 19th Street expects that the market be well attended the weekend before and after the event and will hold business as usual, but most of its expected increase will be with foot traffic. She and the vendors there are hoping many people will stay in Tampa and increase business by just sightseeing and walking around the city.

Marcia Mejia of HARTline is ready for what could be an onslaught of bus traffic.

Most Tampa bus service will be detoured to operate North of Kennedy Boulevard to avoid going into the area around the Tampa Bay Times Forum where the convention will be held.

“Although we will do whatever we can to operate normal routes, we ask our customers to be prepared for schedule changes and allow themselves extra time,” Mejia said.

There will be nine express routes operating to take commuters from Brandon, Lutz and other places, but as South County residents already know, except for the Express Route and Rt. No. 31, South County has no regular bus service. But once in Tampa, additional bus and trolley service will be available. Checking at www.gohart.org/departments/marketing/detours/rnc/downtown_map.pdf will alert people of this now.

Another thing that will be moved but will continue on schedule is court.

During the entire week of August 27, no court proceedings will be held in the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. (Federal) Courthouse. A filing deposit box will be placed inside the first floor of the courthouse, which will be open for the delivery of paperwork. The court encourages people to file papers through the mail. Judges Roy Dalton and David Baker of the Orlando Division have been designated district and magistrate judges responsible for any Tampa matters arising between Aug. 25 and Sept. 1, including anything arising from the RNC that requires courtroom proceedings.

As for county courts, www.fljud13.org/Portals/0/Announcements/AOCCoOpsSSE.pdf explains each and every location in a PDF file for anyone scheduled for any county proceeding ranging from traffic proceedings to juvenile court. Alternate locations for other county offices, like the Planning Commission and the Property Appraiser (and all other departments) may be found at www.hillsboroughcounty.org/index.aspx?NID=2741.

The Convention Center expects to host and serve the needs of approximately 15,000 journalists during the convention, and the Host Committee, which has been planning the events since the site was chosen, expects around 50,000 people including delegates and others associated with the convention (excluding the media figure).

Puz reminded that there will also be protestors, the number of which cannot be judged in advance.

So how does someone who knows the county roadways as well as Puz advise South County residents who need to get into to Tampa to go during the week of the convention?

“Who knows what will be the preference,” Puz said. But remember, the Selmon Expressway will be closed from the Port of Tampa to the Hillsborough River so people who use it to go to work will have to find other means,” he said.

The Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Tampa Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation and Tampa Bay & Company (once known as the Tourist Development Council) were also interviewed for this story, which account for the following facts.

The Committee on Arrangements (a part of the Republican National Committee) expects to host 2,286 delegates and 2,125 alternate delegates from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories. This year’s convention marks the third time the Republican Party has convened its convention in Florida.

The Sunshine State also played host to the 1968 and 1972 Republican National Conventions that nominated Richard M. Nixon. Both of those conventions were held in Miami Beach.

People are told to expect congestion, slowdowns and allow extra time for everything. But dollars will be spent and the whole area is expected to prosper monetarily– the amount of which the Host Committee says it can only guess.

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