Mike Pence will host a rally at the Venetian Event Center on Jan. 16. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Vice President Mike Pence is coming to town.

The Venetian Event Center at St. Mark The Evangelist Catholic Church on Cross Creek Blvd. in New Tampa, which in addition to weddings has hosted a few political townhalls organized by city councilperson Luis Viera as well as a City of Tampa mayoral debate in 2019, will be the site when Pence visits next week for a re-election rally for President Donald Trump.

Pence will lead the “Keep America Great” rally Thursday, January 16 at 1:30 p.m. at the Venetian, which is located at 9724 Cross Creek Blvd.

Venetian director of marketing and communications for the center, Valerie Mainguy, confirmed that The Venetian had been rented by the Trump campaign, but said she had no idea what they would be doing there, or who would even be there. 

She said the event center could only hold 1,000 people, according to City of Tampa fire code.

To register for tickets for the event, go here: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/events/keep-america-great-event-with-vice-president-mike-pence-in-wimauma-fl

The decision to come to New Tampa was a last-minute one, as the rally was originally scheduled for the Valencia Lakes retirement community in Wimauma. But FloridaPolitics.com reported that complaints from Valencia Lakes residents and protests from the property owners association board forced the event to be moved.

According to Florida Politics, one of the complaints was that many attendees would be bused in and would overwhelm the private, gated community.

Some in New Tampa have similar concerns, especially since the event could conclude right around the same time that kids are getting out of school.

Cross Creek resident Cindy Kelly wrote on her Facebook page that “No matter your political leanings, hosting this event at St. Mark’s at 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon is not a good idea. At a minimum, how will Wharton and Benito kids get home from school if they live on either side of the church? We have enough of a challenge with traffic in New Tampa. Tiny Cross Creek (Blvd.) does not have the infrastructure to host this event.”

Asked about how the Venetian Event Center planned to deal with any traffic issues, Mainguy said: “They (the campaign) are taking care of all of that.”

Mainguy refused to provide any other information about the event. “We just rent the building,” she said. 

Tampa city councilmember Luis Viera (left) and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan hosted a townhall at the Venetian Event Center. (Photo: John C. Cotey)

Viera took to the local community website NextDoor.com to alert local residents about the Pence rally.

“When the Vice President of the United States arrives, there is the obvious justified heavy security presence with accompanying traffic challenges, etc.,” Viera wrote. “I have alerted our School Board member Cindy Stuart and am told that the School District is aware and on it.

“Therefore, if your child or children go to a school on or near Cross Creek, or you live in the area, just be aware before you plan your day if this event goes forward.  I assume that the District will release a plan, but FYI for school and other purposes.“

The New Tampa Democrats cited some of the same traffic concerns in a Facebook post, in addition to the costs and potential protest rallies – a Rally Against Mike Pence page for that date is already up on Facebook – and are encouraging people to call St. Mark to ask that the rally be moved.

Pence is in Florida to help shore up Trump’s support among Hispanic voters — he’ll attend a second event in Kissimmee after his New Tampa visit — but Hillsborough County is a focus for Republicans as well.

While New Tampa has long been considered a red, or Republican area, it has been more fertile ground in recent elections for Democrats. 

In 2016, President Trump may have been elected nationwide and won Florida, but Democrat Hillary Clinton won every New Tampa precinct by a combined 58-38 percent margin.

In 2018, Hillsborough County officially turned blue. In New Tampa, longtime local Republicans Shawn Harrison, the Dist. 63 State House Representative, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, were swept out of office by Fentrice Driskell and Mariella Smith, respectively, and neither race was particularly close.

Another Republican County commissioner, Ken Hagan lost all but two New Tampa precincts but still survived unknown political newcomer Angela Birdsong.

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