By Mitra Sorrells Posted June 25, 2012, 2:45 PM EDT
It will be a first in the history of the Republican National Convention: a combined welcome event for delegates and media—a total of more than 20,000 people—at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field on August 26. The Tampa Bay Host Committee has hired Corporate Magic to produce the party, which will include hundreds of entertainers, multiple stages, elaborate lighting, and three distinct areas to highlight the region’s largest cities: Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater.
“This is the singular opportunity for the host committee to brand Tampa Bay to the people who are in town for the convention,” said Matt Becker, chief operating officer for the host committee, which organizes and pays for the party. “We won’t get any other opportunity that week to tell people what’s unique and special about where we live.” Becker added that the idea for the combined delegate-media party developed because “media love to talk to delegates, and delegates love to talk to media. We, as the host committee, can use that opportunity to promote Tampa Bay.”
Organizers selected Tropicana Field because it provides enough space for guests to move around freely. “I want the focal point to be the interaction,” said Becker. “We want people to walk around and socialize. And in the Tampa Bay area there aren’t many options to do that type of event for a group of this size.” But the venue comes with a challenge: It’s the home field of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, and the team has an afternoon game the day before the party. The game is expected to end by 5 p.m., giving Corporate Magic and its team of about 200 people 24 hours to load in, set up, and rehearse before guests arrive.
“For an event this size we would typically be in three to four days in advance, at least,” said Brian Greenway, director of alliances and business development for Corporate Magic. “So we will be throwing an enormous amount of skilled bodies at several different projects that will all be happening at the same time, from building stages to rigging to getting our projectors and screens in place. We will have our plan down to the minute. There is a parking lot outside the venue where we will be staging our trucks for catering, decor, lighting, scenic pieces. We will have 11 to 12 18-wheelers that will be loaded and ready to roll in as soon as they can raise that door after the baseball game.”
And then there’s the issue of security. The event has been deemed a National Special Security Event, meaning the Secret Service has been involved in every step of the planning and will be on-site to screen every guest, vendor, and staff member using magnetometers like those used in airport screenings.
The host committee is providing transportation for the 20,000 invited guests from hotels throughout the Tampa Bay region, and the party will begin as soon as they step onto the buses. “We will have local entertainers meet them on the bus, travel with them as their ambassadors to the event, and they are with them every step of the way,” said Amanda Whitelaw, the host committee’s director of events and volunteers. The buses will arrive at Tropicana Field in waves beginning around 5 p.m., to create a steady flow of people going through security until the party begins around 6 p.m.
Guests will travel down a 150-foot corridor that goes under the stadium seating and leads to the artificial turf field. “Instead of spending a ton of the bank on trying to decorate that space, we wanted to create a clever way to get people from one place to another that’s fun but actually turning the lights off so you don’t see where you are going,” said Stephen Dahlem, senior creative director for Corporate Magic. To do that, Dahlem is using an underwater theme, with costumed performers, wall projections, black lights, and energetic music.
The corridor will bring guests onto center field where there will be a three-dimensional structure, approximately 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide, that will be used as a backdrop for photos. “We want people to take pictures. We want this event to live on virtually. So we wanted to build out a place that is agreeable to that. We are actually still creatively brainstorming what exactly that will look like, but it definitely will be Tampa Bay themed and three dimensional,” Whitelaw said.
Inside the dome, elaborate lighting, digital signage, and red, white, and blue tension structures will be used to delineate the three areas of the party: blue will represent Clearwater, known for its beaches; white will represent the artistic community of St. Petersburg; and red will symbolize the Latin culture of Tampa. Organizers are also creating videos that will be displayed on the field’s huge LED board and ribbon screens that wrap around the field.
The main stage will be located behind home plate and two smaller stages will be on the field, elevated 16 feet off the ground. At the base of those platforms will be lighted bars and food stations, so as guests get their food and drinks they will see entertainment above.
Whitelaw said they are still determining the food vendors and menu, but that it will “definitely be heavy hors d’oeuvres that showcase things you eat around the Tampa market. So we have a lot of Cuban influence, a lot of Greek influence, seafood and things like that.” For entertainment, organizers plan to bring in entertainers from across the region, with one main national act performing on the main stage before the party ends around 9:30 p.m.
“Right before main entertainment, there will be an explosion of pyrotechnics and six enormous Kabuki drops that are 35 feet wide and 60 feet long that will drop from the balcony rail. It will commence into a seven to 10-minute shape projection production piece that showcases the Tampa Bay area and will climax with this live production on the main stage in a patriotic finale,” Dahlem said.
Becker hopes the party will create a lasting impression for the delegates and media from around the world: “We want people to know what is here in Tampa Bay, and we want them to say ‘Wow that was cool. I need to come back.’”