The Republican Party's convention site is creating an awkward reality at odds with the conservative media mythology that is at the center of the convention's theme.
In recent days, Fox News has praised Republicans for adopting “We Built It” as a theme for its upcoming convention. “We Built It” is based on the Fox-fueled distortion of President Obama's remarks tying the success of businesses to “this unbelievable American System” that includes government spending on infrastructure and education.
However, the selection of the Republican convention site actually proves President Obama's point about the role of government assistance. The construction of the Tampa Bay Times Forum was majority financed by the public; the arena is owned by local government; and the Republican convention has received tens of millions in government funds to help with costs and security.
Republican Convention Site: Publicly Financed, Publicly Owned
Republicans will host their 2012 convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, an indoor arena that is publicly owned and whose construction was majority financed by the public.
The Forum was built in 1996 by the Tampa Bay Sports Authority, which was created as a public agency in 1965 for the purpose of “planning, developing and maintaining a comprehensive complex of sports and recreational facilities” in the area. According to the Authority's 2011 financial statements, the Forum is actually owned by Hillsborough County, which then leases it back to the Authority. This step was taken specifically to avoid the inclusion of the arena on the county's tax rolls.
Reports on the actual cost of construction are inconsistent, ranging from $139 million to $162 million [Tampa Tribune, 8/17/97, via Nexis]. But the Forum was reportedly majority-financed using more than $80 million in city and county bonds backed in part by taxes, with additional funding from the Tampa Bay Lightning professional hockey team.
The St. Petersburg Times reported on January 8, 1996 (via Nexis): “Financing for the arena was completed in August with the closing in New York on seven bond issues. Sales taxes, tourist development taxes, and ticket surcharges will be used to repay the bonds. Permanent financing includes $84 million in bonds backed by the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County, and another $60 million worth backed by the Lightning.”
The Forum recently underwent a $40 million dollar renovation, which was privately funded by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. According to the Forum's website, “No financial burden was placed on the community.” In January 2011, the Lightning ownership reportedly sought “to get reimbursed for much of the work with tourist taxes,” following up on a 2006 deal in which the county pledged to repay the Lightning ownership up to $35 million for those improvements. The Tampa Bay Times reported later that year that “Vinik said he has no immediate plans to ask Hillsborough County to reimburse him, not even in part, for the $40 million renovation to the St. Pete Times Forum he is financing.”
Government Spending Has Helped Republican Convention
Presidential Election Campaign Fund. According to the Federal Election Commission, both Republicans and Democrats received public grants of $18,248,300 through the Presidential Election Campaign Fund for their 2012 conventions. The fund is financed by approximately 33 million taxpayers who direct $3 to the fund on their federal income tax return. In June, the U.S. Senate voted 95-4 to eliminate funds for future conventions.
Security Grants. The host sites have received $50 million each in federal grants for convention security. The Tampa grant money is reportedly being spent on “extra police, technology, vehicles, uniforms and gear.”
Local Project Spending. The Associated Press reported that in preparation for the Republican convention the “city of Tampa is spending $2.7 million in beautification projects, mostly landscaping around the gateways leading into downtown. New trees, shrubs and flowers are sprouting up everywhere, including Florida's signature tropical symbol, the palm tree. Even St. Petersburg -- located across Tampa Bay -- put up a new sign with the city's name along an interstate.”
The Tampa Tribune additionally reported that in the “months leading up to the Republican National Convention, beautification and improvement projects popped up throughout Tampa. Some involved major road redesigns; others were as simple as installing new signs or filling in an eyesore of a fountain.”