ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay's hard sell to land the 2008 Republican National Convention wrapped up Tuesday with lemon-scented water to wash off beach sand, fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice and a $7 million pledge from local party members.
National GOP officials praised the hospitality and the local scenery, but they said their choice will ultimately depend on hard numbers, including the ability of hotels and venues to host more than 20,000 conventioneers and the host community's ability to pay for the event.
"The convention decision is really a business decision for the committee," said Jo Ann Davidson, chairwoman of the GOP site selection committee.
Local officials estimate it will cost $67 million to host the event, excluding about $40 million in federal support to provide security for the high-profile event.
Al Austin, chairman of the Tampa-St. Petersburg Host Committee, told the committee he'd secured $7 million of about $40 million in private donations needed to support the convention in only 15 minutes at a Tuesday morning brunch.
Austin declined to identify the donors.
Committee members boarded a plane later Tuesday to Cleveland, their final stop on a tour of the four finalist cities. The group visited Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., and New York City before arriving in Tampa on Sunday.
The committee will announce its choice in early 2007.
Tampa Bay boosters wooed the nine-member delegation with actors dressed as pirates and historical figures, chocolate-covered strawberries and Republican-themed fireworks. They reminded them of Florida's 27 electoral votes and its significance in deciding elections, especially the 2000 election that delivered the White House to the Republicans.
The visit was carefully scripted. Police and meteorologists were on hand to answer questions about weather — especially hurricanes — and event security.