Thursday, August 29, 2013

The RNC one year later. Misfires, gaffes, and blunders

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 3:30 AM

JJ newberry and Kress Buildings 06-30-11

The poster child for Tampa's downtown eyesores, the Kress/Newberry's/Woolworth block at Franklin and Zack streets, got some new windows prior to the invitation-only parties held there during the RNC

According to a report issued by the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee on August 21, the Republican National Convention resulted in direct spending of $214 million. CL has been looking back at the residual bounty left behind by the four-day Republican Party party. While there are some intangible benefits like the "long-term brand-building" touted by the host committee, and millions of dollars in new assets acquired by the city, there have also been some gaffes.
To borrow the grossly overused analogy, these improvements were like putting lipstick on a pig. You can't make ugly look better with a few cosmetics.

800 block of Franklin
Woolworth building 03-27-12

Image of the Woolworth Building on March 27, 2012 at Polk and Franklin Streets shows the blight in the middle of downtown. Initial reports were that the building would receive a facelift as a result of improvements scheduled for the RNC.
Warehouse Productions, LLC was tapped to build out the Kress and Woolworth buildings and turn them into a lavish party place fit for the politically elite. The company has a history of taking rough warehouse spaces and producing over-the-top parties at Republican conventions in Philadelphia, New York and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Woolworth building 01-12-13

Here is the same building when the party was over in this photo taken on January 12, 2013. Updates to the plumbing, wiring, sprinkler and alarm systems on the first floor were required, reportedly costing over $600,000. New doors and windows were also installed. Obviously Warehouse Productions had no obligation to make any improvements to the exterior. After all, their job was to create a party space. But given the decades of conflict and blight over this historic block and the enormous influx of cash, the city needs to use some leverage to do something more. Palm trees on Bayshore are nice and all, but this fight has been going on for over a decade. Using public funds to improve this historic private property may not be the answer, but somebody made some cash repairing and renovating the inside. According to a report in the Tampa Bay Business Journal the buildings were getting a "facelift." The RNC just smeared the lipstick.

Construction Inspection sheet for Central Glass and Window dated 8-9-12

Permit from August 9, 2012 for the replacement of windows is still visible behind the now dirty and graffiti-stained glass. Photo August 9, 2013

Kress interior
There's evidence of temporary fixes inside the Kress building, like orange wire stapled to the wall at about ten feet high. The stage is gone, as are the 10-stall luxury toilets installed just for the week of the RNC. The building was temporarily awakened once again in March of this year for the State of the City address for Bob Buckhorn.

Bayshore Dock Project
Bayshore docks 06-23-12

The docks adjacent to Bayshore and the Davis Islands bridge had been in a state of disrepair for years. Following failed attempts by the city to have private money rehabilitate the area and then lease it back from the city, the docks were removed before the convention. Photo June 23, 2012

Bayshore dock area 08-10-13

This image taken on August 10, 2013 tells the tale of two Bayshores. The street side of the balustrades are white, the sidewalks are clean, and the landscaping well-kept. On the water side the rickety docks are gone but the sidewalk and sea wall are dilapidated. It's still ugly.

Disrepair 08-10-13"Enter at your own risk" signs, beer cans, and long-forgotten broken strings of beads line the structurally failing sidewalk. A question remains whether the project beautified the area enough for the loss of function.
Bayshore docks at Gasparilla 01-30-10The docks were old and ugly but were still used for special events like this Gasparilla Parade on January 30, 2010.

Curtis Hixon Park
Curtis Hixon with fence

Even though Curtis Hixon is a public park, it was leased for private functions and began getting walled off three weeks before the big bash. Fences covered with green fabric kept out prying eyes and anyone who wasn't invited.

Curtis Hixon damaged by RNC 09-06-12
Like a frat party thrown at your parents' house while they were away, some destruction did occur during the political wingding. The well-cared-for grass at Curtis Hixon park was destroyed, most likely by too much shade from the 30,000-square-foot tent erected by Jamestown Entertainment.

Curtis Hixon damage repaired 08-11-13
The city submitted a bill for $33,675 to Jamestown for the repairs and cleaning of the park. In this photo from August 11, 2013 the grass is once again intact.

Painted and Textured Crosswalks

Crosswalk at Kennedy and Packwood

We even wanted our asphalt to look good. Officials thought that texturing and painting all of the crosswalks along Kennedy Blvd. would give a nice polish to the main drag between Tampa International Airport and convention central in downtown. And it looked pretty spiffy around convention time. But like a torn dress after prom night, this cosmetic fix is a flop.
While there was millions of dollars for initial beatification, who is going to pay to keep it up? This crosswalk at Packwood and Kennedy has been defaced presumably by the construction of the new private Primrose School of South Tampa and modifications to the infrastructure surrounding it. What an eyesore.

Crosswalk at Tampa and Jackson
This crosswalk fronting Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown has been patched by a chunk of asphalt. Keeping up roadways is expensive. Keeping up designer crosswalks looks out of the question.

Left Out
Newts for rent
This sign is emblematic of businesses left out of the big party. Still reading "Available for RNC" on July 26, 2013, the former home to Newks Cafe sits across the street from the Tampa Bay Times Forum awaiting its next iteration. It leads one to wonder if the the building would have suffered the same fate were it once named Newt's Cafe. Probably.

The officially unnamed Exploding Chicken

Traffic circle with out Chicken 07-16-2012

The Channelside traffic circle on July 16, 2012 awaits the arrival of artist George Sugarman's 19-ton steel and aluminum sculpture. The city paid for the foundation work and private funds were to be used for moving, reconstructing, and painting Tampa's version of Big Bird.

Traffic circle with chicken 07-23-13
It finally happened in April. Tampa's most love-it-or-hate-it sculpture was re-erected in its new home in Channelside. The name "Exploding Chicken" was coined by Tampa Tribune columnist Steve Otto for its resemblance to the fowl. It was a point of controversy in 2012 because it was scheduled to be placed in its new home prior to the RNC. The official reason for waiting until after the event was the fear that vandals would deface the sculpture with graffiti. However, it was also publicized at the time that after sitting unassembled for years at a Tampa shipyard, the schematics for re-assembly could not be found. The piece was originally commissioned in 1988 and moved from its original perch at Ashley and Kennedy Blvd. in 2010.

Target rich for photographers

For all of its benefits and misfires, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent, the business and traffic disturbance, and even the tropical storm and insufferable heat that followed, the 2012 Republican National Convention was a boon for Tampa. The controversies, conflicts, and photographically target-rich environment brought by the RNC were an experience available only a few times in a local photojournalists life. It was a blast. Let's do it again.

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