Published August 27, 2012
TAMPA, Fla. – Tampa businesses are bracing for impact -- not from Tropical Storm Isaac, but protesters gearing up for the start of the Republican National Convention Tuesday.
Though scattered demonstrations to date have drawn just a few hundred protesters and the convention site remains largely empty, Tampa remains in high-security mode.
The city, according to the police chief, has spent its entire $50 million budget on boosting security measures. And the restaurants and shops lining the streets of downtown Tampa are taking their own precautions -- including stocking up on plywood to cover their windows and taking out additional insurance.
"We took out extra insurance on the windows," Kristina Hickey, an assistant manager at Eddie & Sam's pizza shop, told FoxNews.com. "We have big boards upstairs that we're going to quickly grab and throw up on the windows if something happens."
At Shirley Hutchinson CreativeWorks downtown, boards were already going up on the storefront over the weekend. A man who answered the phone told Fox News that the business was boarding up its windows in preparation for both the storm and protesters.
National conventions always have the potential to bring out a wave of intense protests. The 2008 Republican convention at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul attracted thousands of protesters, with roughly 3,700 police on scene and 818 arrests reported.
But most Tampa shopkeepers who spoke with FoxNews.com were hoping for a relatively peaceful week. They dismissed the demonstrators as little more than a "nuisance," and said they instead anticipate a welcome boom to business as thousands of convention goers and journalists converge -- eventually -- on the city.
"I don't think we'll have a problem," Hickey said. "I look at the protesters as a good thing. Everyone needs to eat."
The protests and the convention itself have gotten off to a slow start due to Isaac, which delayed the opening until Tuesday afternoon.
Georgia Xanthoudakis, co-owner of Samaria's Café on North Tampa Street, said "insurance definitely did go up," but stressed that she and her staff felt at ease by the massive police presence throughout the city.
"Yes, they are warning us about the protesters but I'll be honest with you, we're not too worried right now," Xanthoudakis said. "We have a great city that's backing us up with the Secret Service. We have security everywhere, including snipers."
"It's not like they planned for this overnight," Jimmy John's restaurant manager Andy Baldwin said of the city's police task force.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor told reporters Monday that the city had spent all of its $50 million government grant on convention security. The grant is the same amount city officials in St. Paul, Minn., and Denver, Colo., received four year ago for security at the Republican and Democratic conventions.
Castor said during a news conference that the city was prepared to manage 5,000 protesters at a morning parade Monday but that only 200 had shown up -- a weak turnout that officials attributed to fears about Tropical Storm Isaac, which spared Tampa and took a left turn Monday, heading straight for New Orleans.
Castor characterized the demonstrations thus far as mostly peaceful. Police on Monday arrested one protester who was allegedly part of an anti-war group, after he refused to take off a mask covering part of his face. Another protester was arrested Sunday after allegedly carrying a machete.