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Tampa – not Phoenix – to host 2012 Republican National Convention

Tampa has been chosen to host the 2012 Republican National Convention, concluding a nationwide site search that included Phoenix and more than two-dozen other cities.

The decision was announced by the Republican National Committee on May 12. The Phoenix site selection committee invited the media to hear the announcement live via conference call.

Phoenix, Tampa and Salt Lake City were the final three cities on the Republican National Committee’s short list. Officials in all three cities were on the conference call when the RNC picked Tampa.

Gordon James, a member of the Phoenix site selection committee, asked whether Arizona’s new immigration law had any effect on the decision. The RNC replied that it was simply a business decision, and said the immigration law was not a factor.

Holly Hughes, chairwoman of the RNC national site selection committee, said the team was very impressed with Phoenix, but the RNC decided to go with Tampa based on the needs of both the RNC and Tampa. She offered no further explanation.

If the contract negotiations go badly with Tampa, the RNC may consider starting a discussion with Phoenix, Hughes said.

Bob Lavinia, chairman of the Phoenix host committee, said the group’s members will start working now to bring the Republican National Convention to Phoenix in 2016.

“The Valley of the Sun has a lot to offer large scale conferences such as the RNC Convention, and I know the delegates would have had a great experience,” he said. “I know there will be some speculation on associating this decision with Arizona’s recent immigration bill. I think it’s just that though – pure speculation. What I can say is that we put together a great package for the committee and they have decided to go with Tampa.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is still considering Phoenix as a site for its national convention in 2012.

The fact that both sides were looking at Phoenix highlights Arizona’s future prominence on the electoral landscape. Democrats consider the state a pickup opportunity, and Republicans had hoped to make inroads among Hispanic voters. Arizona traditionally votes Republican and has not been considered a swing state since the Clinton administration.

The Democratic National Committee has sent introductory letters to dozens of cities, including Phoenix, Tampa, Charlotte, Memphis, Houston and St. Louis, according to sources. It’s not clear when the DNC will make a final decision.

Neither party has ever held their conventions in Phoenix, but with 57,000 hotel rooms spread across nearly 500 hotels, according to the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the city could be attractive to either party.

Thanks to Sky Harbor International Airport, a major hub for both US Airways and Southwest Airlines, and arenas like the US Airways Center and Jobing.com Arena, both of which could accommodate up to 20,000 attendees, and the massive University of Phoenix stadium, the city appears, initially, as one of the more promising venues for a party seeking a well-prepared location.

Choosing Phoenix could have political benefits too, as both parties are likely to focus on Arizona as a key battleground state in the 2012 presidential elections. Growth among Hispanic and younger voters has fueled Democratic wins lately; Arizona has nearly double the Hispanic population of the U.S. at large, according to Census estimates, and the population is more than a year-and-a-half younger than the national average.

Any city competing for a national convention spot will need a large number of hotel rooms and convention space, plus a strong security plan in place for convention week.

A convention planning committee will need to raise millions – the committee in charge of putting on the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver raised more than $50 million. But those efforts pay off in spades; Denver officials estimated the city earned the equivalent of more than $100 million in advertising from the convention, with millions more in tax revenue pouring in from delegates and guests.

A report commissioned for the host committee for the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 2008 estimated that the city benefited from $168 million in direct and indirect economic impact.

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