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Treasure Island Chamber pulls plug on RNC event

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TREASURE ISLAND – In a surprise move Feb. 7, sponsor Bill Edwards pulled the rug out from funding a sand-sculpting event planned for the week of the Republican National Convention.

Edwards, director of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce, was not in attendance at City Hall when Harry Black, a member of the chamber executive committee, informed the City Commission that the chamber was no longer going to pursue the event due to “roadblocks thrown up by city staff.”

“We’re rescinding our resolution request,” Black said. “The city manager and the police chief have used this as a means to choke us and ultimately kill a project that was in the community’s best interest. We ran into constant obstacles and unachievable goals.”

The chamber had planned to finance the entire event. But Black said the chamber’s expense would have doubled under the stipulations set forth by the city.

The event would have taken place Aug. 24 to Sept. 2 behind Gulf Front Park next to the Bilmar Beach Resort and was projected to draw between 5,000 and 8,000 people per day. Most would be delegates and their families who would have been shuttled to Treasure Island from Tampa. But the big goal was national and international television exposure the city would have received.

The sand sculpture, which was planned to be 40 feet tall and produced under a pair of 100-foot by 150-foot tents, would have depicted government buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. Sanding Ovations Inc., would have produced it.

Since most of the Treasure Island Police Department is already obligated to help with RNC security along the beaches, plans called for the chamber to hire 15 state-licensed police officers from other areas around Florida for event security over the nine-day period. The chamber would have also provided bus transportation to and from Tampa for those attending.

Beach parking available was planned for those driving at $10 per car, which would have produced a large revenue stream for the city.

Following the RNC, the sand sculpture would have remained for public viewing through Oct. 1.

Efforts by Police Chief Tim Casey to recruit additional police officers were unsuccessful or unable to be finalized. City officials estimated the two-week cost at $22,574, which have been borne by the chamber.

Overall, city staff estimated total personnel and expenses at $190,000 and revenue from parking over a 5-week span (Aug. 24 to Sept. 30) at $142,500.

The chamber would have been responsible for reimbursing the city for the additional $47,500.

Meantime, the city’s insurance carrier recommended the chamber provide general liability and auto insurance for the event, which would cover all vendors and volunteers and service providers.

Then there was the matter of state permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems to build sand sculptures on the public beach. Those permits sometimes take months for approval, city officials warned.

Silverboard defended the city against the accusations by Black that it sabotaged the chamber’s plans.

“I disagree with the characterization that we deliberately tried to sabotage this event,” said Silverboard. “What we did is look out for the best interests of the city and the sponsor of this event. In the event of something negative, we would have been responsible. Also, the city did not budget for any of the cost of this event.”

Casey said he was surprised at Black’s announcement.

“This is all news to me tonight,” Casey said. “Absolutely no was there any attempt to derail this event.”

“This (decision to cancel the event) upsets me,” said Commissioner Carol Coward. “I don’t want the failure of this event to fall on the shoulders of this board. That’s wrong.

“I’m very disappointed,” she added. “I thought this would have been a great thing to happen. I can see the frustration of the (chamber) group because they were trying to do something good for the city. I think things like this are something that go on regularly with people who are trying to deal with city staff.”

“It annoys me to have this dumped on our lap.” Said Commissioner Gail Caldwell. “Let’s put the responsibility where it belongs.”

Commissioner Alan Bildz backed city staff.

“There’s no blame,” he said. “We needed extra police officers and they’re not available. If we don’t have the extra officers, we have to pull it. I absolutely agree with the city staff.”

Mayor Bob Minning said he thought the chamber should have conferred with the City Commission before making its decision.

“It’s very unfortunate the sponsor didn’t realize it’s the decision of the City Commission to move forward or not and we were not given that chance,” Minning said. “It’s very unfortunate.”

City residents also expressed dismay at the chamber’s decision.

“I’m sad, shocked and disappointed,” said Patricia Hubbard, chief financial officer of Hubbard Properties, which operates John’s Pass Village. “I was really looking forward to what this would have brought to this area.”

“I’m sorry you’ve chosen to pass on this great opportunity,” said Treasure Island resident Tom Bauer. “I’m sorry to hear the chamber has chosen not to back this event.”

“Shame on us for not backing this more thoroughly,” said City Commission candidate Butch Ellsworth.
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