Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Business

Florida State Fair Authority may solicit development ideas for fairgrounds

TAMPA — Attention, land developers with ideas for the Florida State Fairgrounds. The people in charge of that land would like to hear from you.

The Florida State Fair Authority's board is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to issue an "invitation to participate," an open call for developers interested in building on part of the publicly owned property along Interstate 4 east of Tampa. The Fair Authority announced the vote in a press release Saturday afternoon.

The fair itself isn't going anywhere, officials said Saturday. Any development would need to be "in keeping with the fairgrounds' core mission," said Fair Authority executive director Chuck Pesano.

The state fair is self-funded, and in need of money. The fair has struggled to turn a profit for years, and its facilities need infrastructure improvements.

For years, fair officials have discussed developing part of the land to bring in extra revenue. A new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays has been among suggested ideas, but that is not anticipated this time, according to Terri Parnell-Longphee, director of sales and marketing. The Rays, who are under contract to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, have expressed a preference for a densely packed urban site, like downtown Tampa.

Of the fairgrounds' 331 acres, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre uses 17 acres, plus more for parking. The fair itself, when in operation, can use 35 to 50 acres, Pesano said. That leaves plenty of room for something else, provided developers also include a parking garage in their plans, he said.

Developing part of the fairgrounds is not a new concept. In 2010, former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco called the site the "next Disney." Greco, who could not be reached for comment Saturday, and Republic Land Development of Fairfax, Va. proposed a plan that included a new baseball stadium, as well as hotels, restaurants and shops.

More recently, a group called Sovereign Investments has discussed plans that include hotels and an entertainment center, Parnell-Longphee said, but the Fair Authority board wanted a process to solicit several bidders and plans.

"It will be competitive, transparent and fair," Doyle Carlton III, chair of the Fair Authority board, said. "We want to hopefully be able to accomplish something that will bring in some revenue, but not anything that will compromise the core of the fair and its integrity."

If the board votes as expected Friday, interested developers can visit the grounds Nov. 22 for a conference and site visit. Fair Authority officials were reluctant Saturday to commit to developments they'd like to see, although Pesano did say condominiums or strip malls would face an uphill battle.

Outside of that, Pesano said, Fair Authority officials are looking forward to seeing what developers think they can do with the land.

"The board is interested to see what the ideas are," he said.

Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren contributed to this report.

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