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Tampa Convention Center to double

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Six locations under scope for growth

Tampa Convention Center to double

Aja Whitaker

Staff Writer

TAMPA -- Blueprints for the future of downtown could include one of six possible Tampa Convention Center expansion sites.

Two multi-industry task forces came up with dozens of possibilities for nearly doubling the center's 279,000 square feet of meeting space. Their work is part of the second phase of a feasibility study being conducted by KPMG LLP.

"We are looking at something that will have the maximum impact on downtown Tampa and a minimum negative impact on infrastructure," said David Greusel, design principal in HOK's Venue Group. "It is balancing act, and cost is a consideration as well. Our job isn't to pick a site. ... At the end of the day it will be a policy decision."

KPMG and HOK narrowed the field to the six finalists that will be presented first to the task force and then to the Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council on Nov. 13.

And the finalists are ...

Estimated construction costs and expansion locations include:

Site 1, $123 million -- East across Franklin Street directly south of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

Site 2, $167 million -- East along Ice Palace Drive creating a link between the convention center at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Site 3, $184 million -- North of the convention center, creating a bridge that runs over the Crosstown Expressway and lands south of Fort Brooke Parking Garage.

Site 4, $100 million -- Two directions: to the east and to some fill in the Garrison Channel to the south.

Site 5, $102 million -- South by filling in the channel and creating the addition south of the center.

Site 6, $137 million -- Build a bridge to Harbour Island and place expansion over the channel.

A seventh possibility includes a $300-million remote replacement site across from Channelside and north of the Forum.


Eastward expansion runs into the recently built South Regional Parking Garage and the proposed Embassy Suites Hotel project.

John Moors, convention center administrator, sees the 371-room Embassy Suites project as a key component of future expansion.

"Our No. 1 reason we don't make a short list for some convention business is because we have a lack of hotel rooms," said Moors. "The addition of the Marriott Waterside has eliminated a lot of that, but it is still there."

White Co., an Indiana-based developer of hotels, is planning the Embassy project on an estimated 50,000-square-foot parcel bounded by Channelside Drive, Franklin Street and Florida Avenue.

Initial plans include 12,000 square feet of meeting space and a 300-car parking facility.

White Co. is proceeding with the possibility of expanding the hotel to 700 rooms in conjunction with future expansion of the center, Moors said.

There are about 2,400 hotel rooms in the downtown area, with just 1,400 in walking distance from the center.

The KPMG study determined expansion was needed in order to maintain and grow convention business. It indicated more convention quality hotels were critical.

The final report will prepare estimates for financial operations, economic and fiscal impacts, and will identify funding sources and financing options.

Total project costs could run 20 percent to 40 percent higher than the construction estimates.

The existing 600,000-square-foot center was paid for through a $146-million city of Tampa utility tax bond issue. As of Sept. 30, the principal was down to about $117 million.

The city pays $13.3 million a year in debt service to retire the bond issue while the convention center, which is considered part of the city, only netted slightly more than $750,000 in fiscal year 2003.

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It will be interesting to see which option comes out on top. Personally I don't care as long as it doesn't include tearing down a restored block of historic two-story brick warehouses, just ot the east (site 1). Tampa has a serious problem with tearing down historically significant buildings to build new things, instead of placing new developments on vacant lots & surface parking areas.

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