TAMPA, Fla. - For the first time in nearly three months, the Tampa City Council will meet in public on Thursday – but at the Convention Center – not City Hall.

What You Need To Know

  • Residents who attend must wear mask, have temperature checked

  • Officials say Convention Center will allow for social distancing

  • Thursday's meeting will be first in 3 months

  • More Politics headlines

With its spacious rooms, the center can allow for social distancing in the COVID-19 world in a fashion not possible in their usual chambers - with council members sitting six feet apart from each other, and only fifty chairs assembled for the public to observe (there will be additional seating outside the main room).

“I’m really excited that we’re going to be meeting in person,” says Councilman John Dingfelder. “I think human interaction is much better with the public or with each other in person.”

Although Dingfelder and other council members may be weary about holding meetings telephonically, the main reason with the switch from virtual meetings is that much of their work is considered “quasi-judicial.” The city’s legal staff has advised that those meetings are problematic electronically, and are much more conducive to taking place in person. 

“We haven’t met in person since March, and the agendas are backing up,” says City Council Chairman Guido Maniscalco. “With rezoning, land-use and alcoholic beverage permits. People are waiting.”

Although city officials didn’t contact convention and tourism director Una Garvey until April about moving their public gatherings to the convention center, she says she knew early on that it was likely the only facility that could handle such meetings. 

“We decided that we would build out a room and be prepared for it so that we were ready when the decision was made to move forward,” she tells Spectrum Bay News 9.

“There’s a lot of technology and innovation that goes into this room from our audio/visual camera component, to the overhead projectors, cable television that comes in…as well as our infrastructure for sound and internet access,” Garvey says. “All of those things play a big role, so it takes a while to work out all the kinks and make it resemble the city chambers.”

Members of the public who want to attend the meetings must come wearing a mask (or one will be provided for them). They’ll have to enter through the building’s Channel entrance, where they’ll be greeted by an official who will take their temperature. 

There are reminders scattered throughout the convention center that people must stand six feet apart from each other (including on the escalators). Other upgrades include using electrostatic spray surface cleaning, and attendants in each of the upgraded restrooms.

"I think we’ll continue using the convention center as long as there’s a COVID concern,” says Dingfelder. And if they can’t?

“Maybe we have to go out into one of our recreation facilities,” he says, adding that “I would be very, very concerned to go back to Tampa City Council chambers.”