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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2012-08-27

SPORTS SHOOTER DESTINATIONS
Welcome to Tampa for the 2012 Republican National Convention

By Brian Blanco

If, right now, you're digging through your office or garage looking for your gas mask then chances are you've got a ticket to Tampa for the Republican National Convention happening here in late August.

Photo by Brian Blanco

Photo by Brian Blanco

2012 Republican National Convention: Location- Tampa Bay Times Fourm in Tampa, Florida
Welcome - We're happy to have you.

As a Tampa native and local shooter I thought I'd jot down a few things you might want to know about our fair city before you get here.

First, it's going to be hot, as in DAMN HOT. If you've never experienced downtown Tampa in August then you can prepare yourself for what it's going to be like by sitting in your car in the middle of the day with the windows rolled up and the ignition off whilst pointing a hair dryer at your face on full blast for an hour. Luckily though, we get thunderstorms every afternoon in August so that, well, is a good thing I guess. If you're one of the shooters that will be covering the protestors outside of the convention then you may want to consider wearing very lightweight clothing and packing some lightweight rain gear as well.

The convention itself will be held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum which is located along the bay in downtown Tampa at 401 Channelside Drive and, on a day when there is no convention, it's an easy 20-minute drive from Tampa International Airport. During the week of the convention you'd be well advised to allow for at least an hour from the airport to downtown as I have seen the security plans and, suffice it to say, traffic will be a living nightmare.

Despite what the last few mayors have claimed, downtown Tampa is not exactly a "livable downtown", meaning that, while it's a nice place, there are not a lot of people who reside there and therefore, after 5pm, there are not a lot of restaurants, shopping or entertainment within walking distance for those of you who are staying downtown.

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Editors Note: Brian wrote this article for Sports Shooter several weeks ago. In the past few days, Hurricane Isaac has been predicted to hit the area on the opening day of the RNC. Brian wrote a previous story for Sports Shooter about cover hurricanes which can be found at this link: http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/2529.
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Directly adjacent to the event venue however is a place called Channelside Bay Plaza www.channelsidebayplaza.com where you'll find a Hooters, a mediocre Thai place, a Cold Stone Creamery, a pretty decent sushi place, a bowling alley/restaurant/Chucky Cheese-for-adults-type place with horrible food but great bars and a few other forgettable establishments, all of which will likely be PACKED by the convention-goers that you'll be desperate to get away from at the end of the night.

Photo by Brian Blanco

Photo by Brian Blanco

"Our clubbing, cool funky restaurants and entertainment district is Ybor City."
Our clubbing, cool funky restaurants and entertainment district is Ybor City, which is very close to downtown Tampa and there is a little trolley that runs between the heart of Ybor and downtown. (NOTE: While it is technically walkable, I wouldn't advise it as the walk back at night is fairly dangerous) Ybor is an old cigar-rolling city that is just oozing character and history.

The main drag is 7th Ave, along which you'll find fantastic local restaurants, night clubs with live music, funky shops, tattoo places, drunks, authentic, hand-rolled Tampa cigars that are every bit as good as anything that ever came out of Havana (and if you know the right places and people you may just find some from Cuba as well). The bars generally overlook or spill out to the street so you can people watch as you enjoy some well-earned cigars and drinks after a day of listening to political speeches or fighting anarchists and amped-up cops.

While in Ybor, if you're looking for a unique Tampa restaurant with great Cuban food then try the Columbia Restaurant www.columbiarestaurant.com right on 7th Ave and try the Arroz con Pollo or Palomilla Steak but make reservations early. For more relaxed Cuban food try La Tropicana Cafe on 7th Ave too.

As far as Ybor bars, I like the Green Iguana but they're all about the same. They all have that stale beer smell, sticky floor and sweaty over-worked bartenders that make for a great night. The hipster shooters among us may want to try the Ritz Theater www. ritzybor.com for live music and a PBR (I don't know that they actually serve Pabst but if not, they should).

Now let's address the elephant in the room. Tampa has been described, correctly or incorrectly, as the Strip Club Capital of the World and chances are that journalists and RNC attendees, will be rubbing elbows in these establishments before the week is over. (Please see story I worked in for NYT about Tampa strip clubs: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/27/us/strip-clubs-in-tampa-are-ready-to-cash-in-on-gop-convention.html ) I've shot stories at the two most famous strip clubs in Tampa: The Mons Venus and the 2001 Odyssey, both of which are on Dale Mabry Highway which is close the airport that you flew in to. Just keep in mind that these full-nude places do not serve alcohol as per Tampa ordinances. These places are part of the whole Tampa experience and I'm told there will be shuttles and rivers running from downtown to the clubs during the RNC.

Now, if you're looking to spend money on something other than booze, cigars and strip clubs, there is a really nice shopping mall right next to the airport called International Plaza. This is a fairly swanky mall with nightclubs, restaurants and higher-end shopping mixed in with the regular mall stores you'd expect. www.shopinternationalplaza.com This is a great place to pick up clothes for the convention should you run out of clean stuff or the airline lose your baggage.

Photo by Brian Blanco

Photo by Brian Blanco

"Tampa has been described, correctly or incorrectly, as the Strip Club Capital of the World."
Another unique place to drop some money is the Army Navy Store in downtown Tampa. This is where you'll pickup everything you may need to battle the RNC anarchists (gas masks, backpacks, boots, water bottles, carabineers, foul weather gear, small first aid kits, etc.) This place just HAS to be seen to be believed. It is PACKED full of stuff to the rafters, and I kid you not, some of this stuff has sat unmoved since I went there as a kid in the early 80s'. In fact, this place is so legit you won't event find a website for them but you'll find them at 1312 N Tampa Street. Trust me on this one... you'll find something in this pile of "stuff".

Now, if you happen to have a free day and have access to a rental car and you want to check out our beaches. They're all pretty nice, including Clearwater Beach, Anna Maria Island, Treasure Island, etc. but for a truly memorable beach you may to make the extra drive (maybe a little more than an hour drive) to see Siesta Key in Sarasota. It'll recharge the batteries that were drained by being forced to endure countless political speeches.

Ok, let's say you have not yet booked your hotel. You’re not out of luck. Yes, you're not likely to find anything in downtown Tampa, or anywhere decent in Tampa, but if you have a rental car you might want to look into hotels in Lakeland, FL or Bradenton, FL as there are still several hotels with decent rates during the convention in both cities. They are both a fairly easy commute as Bradenton is South of Tampa along I-75 and Lakeland is East of Tampa along I-4 and on non-convention weeks the drive is about 35-45 minutes.

I was going to get into detail about how to get around and where to park in downtown Tampa during the RNC but instead I'll just give you this link because honestly, as someone born and raised in Tampa, I'm STILL having trouble decoding this mess: http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2012/PDFs/security%20plan.pdf

The bottom line, which should be obvious by reading the link above, is that it'll be an absolute mess. If you're leaving the secure area of the convention then allow for a boatload of extra time to do anything. There's a lot to do in Tampa and I've only touched on a few things but it really is a great city when it is not overrun by riot police and stone-throwing anarchists. Bottom line: Stay safe, have fun and feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions or need a hand with anything... and don't forget your gas mask.


Brian Blanco is a regular contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter and is a freelance photographer based in Florida. You can see examples of his work at his Sports Shooter member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=899.

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