The big hotels in Tampa are doing fine if they were among those booked by the Republican party for the delegates. The California delegation stayed at the Tradewinds in St. Pete and even at 2:00 in the morning, the lobby bar was doing brisk business. But at Zudar's Caf?, just across the canal from the convention center, it was empty, even at lunchtime. "Typically, at this point in time, this restaurant would be full and I can tell you we're probably down 75 percent so far this week," owner Eric Weinstein said.
Next door, the Publix supermarket was full of food but had an empty parking lot. A few miles from the convention center, it got a bit better. "We'll we're down about 15 or 20 percent, but we're not quite as close to downtown," restaurant owner Jim Walker said.
It seems the closer businesses were to the convention, the worse it got for one simple reason that somehow, a lot of people overlooked. The security around the convention center was beyond extreme. Roads were blocked, bridges were closed, and delegates were bussed in but they never walked outside the fenced perimeter.
The economic windfall that a lot of people expected never materialized. "We've cut back our staff, tightened our belts, and we're trying to ride it out as best as we can," Weinstein said. Now, this is not the picture Republicans wanted to leave in Tampa. The city anchors one end of the famous I-4 Corridor, the geographic area of the state that holds a large number of swing voters and is often the deciding factor in who wins the state.
"It's a very big problem. I have no defense for it, no solution for it," former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said. Law enforcement spent more than a year planning the security for this convention with the idea that a massive display would overpower any attempt to disrupt the city. Asked if he was worried this might have a negative effect Gingrich said, "A little bit. You always have to worry about whether these sort of bumps in the road are more important than the media coverage."
Gingrich need not worry about the media coverage, there was plenty, but Republicans might have given a thought to that part of the Tampa Bay businesses community that is now left with a bad taste after this week of partying. "I'm not sure what the answer is but at this point, I'm still sitting as an undecided voter," Weinstein said.