RNC event at Tropicana Field raises security concerns

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Residents, business owners and heads of downtown neighborhood associations came to the Sunshine Center Thursday evening with concerns about road closures and limited access to homes and businesses when the Republican National Committee hosts it official RNC Welcome Event at Tropicana Field on Aug. 26, reports William Mansell of Patch.

Concerns were heightened this week when flyers began to appear on windows along Central Avenue in the Edge Business District that said residents/business owners could be kept from their homes during the event.

Matthew Miller with U.S. Secret Service tried to squash most concerns Thursday but said there would be some inconveniences neighborhoods, businesses and commuters could face on Aug. 26.

“Because of the way Tropicana Field is designed, (security) won’t impact much of the residential or business communities,” Miller said.

However, there will be a very short duration, Miller said, that if you live in a certain area that police ask if they can see driver’s licenses.

“We will make every effort to work with folks,” Miller added. “I don’t think you will be that unhappy.”

Sgt. Gary Dukeman with St. Petersburg Police said there are currently no plans to shut down Central Avenue near Tropicana Field or limit pedestrian access to businesses in the Edge District corridor.

“There’s misinformation out there,” he said. “The unknowns (are) what we got to look out for.”

A resident and business owner at 16th Street and 1st Avenue S., Connie Young, said she came to the meeting worried about what might happen on Aug. 26 but said Thursday’s meeting help ease her fear.

“I’m relieved because what the word out there was that it was going to be a lot worse,” Young said. “We heard yesterday that this meeting was happening, we knew nothing and it scared us.”

Earlier this summer the City Council approved funding for security cameras for the RNC Welcome Event. The Welcome Event at Tropicana Field requires the city to use $270,000 for security cameras, which Mayor Bill Foster said could be refunded by the Department of Justice.

City Council has even had lengthly discussions about what to do with the security cameras once the RNC has skipped town.

While final security/traffic plans won’t be released to the public for a few weeks, Miller shed some light on details. He said some residents might have to show ID to gain access to certain residential areas and that there is the possibility that snipers could be on apartment/condo rooftops.

“I don’t think there will be any resident or business that will be displaced,” Miller said. He joked that if you are looking to get into a storage unit at U-Haul that it might be difficult.

A major function of his job, Miller said, is to also help with transportation. Miller was unable to offer specifics but said Secret Service and St. Petersburg Police would be releasing information regarding road closures, detours and accessibility requirements within a few weeks.

Despite fears that bridges could be shut down, Miller said there are no plans to do so unless deemed necessary.

“The plan right now is to not shut down any bridges,” he said. “Using the system of the cameras that FDOT has in place, FHP, Coast Guard, Florida Marine Patrol will be ready if a bridge becomes a problem.”

Miller said her understand Secret Service becomes the enemy or the bad guy in these type of situations, but told the group Thursday that this isn’t about protecting one party it is about protecting the office of the president.

“We are an a-political organization. That’s our role,” Miller said. “We are here to make sure that in November there are two candidates to be placed on the ballot.”

The RNC Welcome Event will host members of the media, all delegates and delegate guests. Miller estimates that it would be around 20,000 people. No time has been set for the Aug. 26 date.

Dukeman said outside of the significance of the event, the city is already prepared to deal with the large crowds because of its experience with Rays games and events like the 4th of July, which draws nearly 100,000 people.

Other inconveniences residents could face are delayed mailing services and trash/recycling pickup. Residents, Miller said, should have no fear about emergency vehicles have access.

The reason Secret Service is involved in the security planning for the event is because the Welcome Event has been designated a National Special Security Event (NSSE) by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The past four RNC and DNC conventions have been classified as NSSE and have been run by Secret Service.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.