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Forum fixes help the RNC go green

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 08:49 PM

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TAMPA -

When the Tampa Bay Times Forum embarked on $40 million in renovations last year, the effort took on a green hue.

The forum recycled more than 60 percent of the construction debris and saved more than $100,000 in landfill charges, said Mary Milne, vice president of operations. What's more, it recycled the estimated 20,000 seats it replaced — and all told, actually made $75,000, mostly from the sale of scrap metal.

That initiative will go far in helping the Republican National Convention project its own green hue when thousands converge on the forum in August to select the party's presidential nominee.

On its own, the RNC has made some of the moves toward limiting environmental impact that were adopted during past conventions, including recycling at its downtown offices and developing mobile apps to replace paper handouts in keeping delegates informed.

Not yet on the drawing boards, with the convention five months away, are ideas such as coordinating transportation to help reduce the carbon footprint of people flying in and out of Tampa. Or organizing a bike-share program. Or ordering reusable water bottles.

But the RNC did choose a venue that happens to be one of the greenest in the region, said James Davis, communications director for the convention's committee on arrangements.

The forum won the "Champions of the Forest" award from Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful last year for its efforts in energy efficiency, recycling and sustainability.

"The role model of our community for sustainability with energy efficiency," Debra Evenson calls it. She's the executive director of Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.

"They diverted over 5 million pounds of waste from the construction. That is what we look at, somebody that stands out and does the right thing."

GOP delegates, who tout their party as stingy with taxpayer dollars, will be stingy with water, too, when they do their business during this biggest of local conventions.

"We installed auto flush valves, which control the amount of water and the number of flushes and makes for a cleaner area" in the restrooms, Milne said. Water saving sinks also went in.

In addition, four air handlers were replaced with more energy efficient models and an energy-saving dehumidification system was installed.

The work was paid by Jeff Vinik, owner of the forum's principal tenant, hockey's Tampa Bay Lightning.

More green initiatives will be coming for the RNC, Davis said.

"One of our big pushes is to leverage the latest in technologies to not only be responsible stewards of the resources, but also to create and maximize efficiency," he said.

That's good news to Marcia Biggs, group chairwoman for the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay.

"I can tell you that recycling would be at the top of the priority list, considering they expect 50,000 visitors," Biggs said. "That would be absolutely important."

Carpooling and mass transit, she said, would also go far in helping reduce the convention's massive carbon footprint — a measure of carbon released into the atmosphere by human activity, which is believed to contribute to global warming.

The RNC has announced plans to work with contractor SP Plus Gameday on the mass transit, including 300 buses to serve 5,000 delegates traveling between Tampa-area hotels and downtown.

"The Democrats will have multiple events at different locations," Davis said, referring to the Democratic National Convention beginning Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C. "On our side, all of our events will be inside the forum, rather than in various locations."

Davis said Tampa conventioneers will be encouraged to walk to restaurants and shops. And to make it easier on them, the RNC will provide a covered walkway between the Tampa Convention Center and the forum to protect them from heat and rain.

During their 2008 convention in Denver, Democrats pulled out all the stops. They created a green committee, launched a bike-share program, conducted a series of local workshops to help local businesses learn green practices, and pushed to use local produce in meals. They even provided guides on how many calories delegates burn based on the number of steps they take.

In all, more than 140 volunteers worked on the green initiative, according to published reports.

The Republicans, too, pushed a green initiative at their 2008 convention in St. Paul, Minn. It included a bike-borrowing program, extensive recycling, reuse of office furniture and cubicles, and flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles on loan from General Motors.

In addition, according the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Xcel Energy, the convention's power provider, offset power used at the site with an equal amount of new wind power produced elsewhere.


yhammett@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7127

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