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Politics

Convention center renting for pretty penny during RNC

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:32 PM
TAMPA -

For nearly two months this summer, the Tampa Convention Center will have a single tenant: the Republican National Convention.

Under its contract with convention organizers, the city will turn the entire 600,000-square-foot center over to the RNC on July 16 so crews can ready the center, including constructing television sets and newsrooms for use by the thousands of journalists expected.

The center will remain under RNC control until all those sets and newsrooms have been dismantled Sept. 8.

In exchange, the convention center will make $1.37 million in rent. That works out to about $160,000 a week, the maximum rate the center charges.

That's nearly $1 million more than the convention center would normally make during the summer, its low period for operations, according to its records.

Aside from rent, the center is also likely to make money from food concessions both inside the building and at its waterfront Sail Pavilion just outside, said Rick Hamilton, who runs the convention center and the city's tourism efforts.

"I'm looking at it as a net positive or, bottom line, being a break-even situation," said Hamilton, who took the reins of the convention center in December.

Betsy Ilges, special events coordinator for Aramark, the convention center's food contractor, said she's hoping to have live music and a cigar-and-whiskey lounge during the week of the convention – if the purveyors can get cleared through security.

"We're hoping to see a big bump in income, being where we are," Ilges said.

Last year, without the extra million dollars in RNC rent, the convention center brought in $10.7 million. After subtracting operating expenses and adding in resort taxes, the convention center ended its 2011 budget year nearly $3 million in the black.

All that money went to the city's bottom line.

Hamilton won't know until the end of September just what kind of impression the RNC will make on his center's books. If the convention center loses money, the city will have to make up the loss, he said.

City budget director Dennis Rogero said his office is projecting a $2 million windfall from the convention center this year. The extra money would go into the city's reserves, where it could be tapped for other uses the next budget year, he said.

"The RNC is the big X factor," he said.

Since October, only two other events have come close to creating the kind of weekly cash-flow the RNC will generate. In November, the Greater Tampa Bay Auto Show paid $143,563 to rent the center. Earlier this month, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church paid $152,000.

Other conventions averaged about $48,000, according to convention center documents.

The RNC is also renting the nearby Forum to hold the nominating convention. It's unclear how much that building's owners are getting for the event. Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke declined to discuss the RNC contract.

Convention Center's top renters

Thirty-two groups have rented space at the Tampa Convention Center this fiscal year, most averaging less than $50,000. Here are the top payers:

General Conference of the United Methodist Church: $152,000

Greater Tampa Auto Show: $143,563

Penton Media Inc.: $136,000

Special Operations Forces conference: $124,500

Source: Tampa Convention Center


kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7871 Twitter: kevinw_trib

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