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Tampa again seeks restaurants for convention center, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

TAMPA — City Hall is back out in the market seeking private-sector partners to open restaurants in two spots close to the Riverwalk.

One is a 10,000-square-foot space at the Tampa Convention Center.

The other is a 2,600-square-foot space overlooking the lawn at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

With hundreds of new downtown apartments in the works, Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the business prospects will only get better for a restaurant in either location.

Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart showed that, Buckhorn said, when he bucked the conventional wisdom at the time and opened Ulele next to the city's new Water Works Park in 2014.

"I think he's proved in no uncertain terms that the time is right and you can make a lot of money," Buckhorn said. (That said, Gonzmart spent a lot of money first, investing $6 million of his own to transform the city's 110-year-old old water works pumphouse into his restaurant and brewery.)

So Buckhorn's administration has issued requests for proposals seeking restaurateurs for both spaces. Proposals are due for the convention center on June 9 and for Curtis Hixon on June 12.

City officials see the time as right for new restaurants at each location as developers plan or build hundreds of new apartments on the old Tampa Tribune site, on Harbour Island, in the Heights, in the Channel District and at the $3 billion project being planned near Amalie Arena by Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment.

Both sites have been discussed for years as possible sites for public-private partnerships, but previous initiatives did not pan out.

A year ago, the city asked for restaurant proposals at the convention center when it opened the food and beverage contract to bidders. The space in question is at street-level at the corner of S Franklin Street and Channelside Drive, where the Tampa Bay History Center was until 2009.

The city got five proposals and ended up staying with Aramark, the Philadelphia-based company that has had the city's contract since the convention center opened more than 25 years ago. But nothing materialized for the vacant space at Franklin and Channelside.

Buckhorn said he believes the convention center space would work for a steakhouse like a Shula's or a Ruth's Chris.

"Conventioneers are always looking for places to eat that are within walking distance of where they're staying," he said.

The space being offered at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park has been discussed as a possible site for a restaurant near the river since Pam Iorio was mayor.

"That's a park whose time has arrived in an area of the city that has clearly taken off," Buckhorn said.

In 2012, a proposal to build at Curtis Hixon unraveled when a private art collector said the city would not provide the financial support for a museum he wanted to create in Tampa.

Rudy Ciccarello of Palm Harbor had proposed to build the American Craftsman Museum on the 1.2-acre strip where the park's restrooms and offices now stand. That would have put his museum across the lawn from the Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children's Museum. The $31 million building was to include a 4,000-square-foot restaurant.

Ciccarello planned to lend the museum $45 million worth of furniture, pottery, ceramic tiles, metal work, woodblocks, fine art, lighting, textiles, stained glass and other decorative objects from the American arts and crafts movement of the early 1900s.

After the project fell apart in Tampa, Ciccarello ended up in St. Petersburg, where he now plans to build a $70 million museum on Fourth Avenue N.

But Buckhorn said at the time that Ciccarello's request for a $1 million subsidy for five years was more than the city was in a position to provide.

And, he said Monday, it still is.

The city is "not likely" to agree to subsidize a venture in either space, Buckhorn said.

"We can be creative with the lease," he said, "but the city is not interested in getting into the restaurant business."

Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

Tampa again seeks restaurants for convention center, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park 05/08/17 [Last modified: Monday, May 8, 2017 1:32pm]
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