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Tampa Hard Rock expansion planned — if state passes gaming deal

If the gaming deal is approved, Tampa could see the enormous hotel above built inside three years.

Bitner Goodman Inc.

If the gaming deal is approved, Tampa could see the enormous hotel above built inside three years.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida plans to spend nearly $800 million to expand the Tampa Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

But it's far from a done deal.

The tribe will move ahead only if the Legislature passes essentially the same gambling compact the tribe struck with Gov. Charlie Crist, which was thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court. Legislators have various ideas about tinkering with the agreement.

The expansion plans "are obviously a form of lobbying the Legislature and public," said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island. "We'd wish them well — if they get a compact."

Plans call for building the biggest hotel in the Tampa Bay area, up to 22 stories high with as many as 1,000 rooms, said Gary Bitner, a tribe spokesman. The hotel would dwarf the 250-room Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and unseat the Tampa Marriott Waterside, with 717 rooms, as the area's largest.

Construction also would include some 50,000 square feet of new meeting space, several restaurants, a new parking garage with 6,000 spaces and a music hall seating 1,500 to 2,000. Work could begin in a year and would take as many as two years to complete, Bitner said.

The tribe also has authorized major hotel and other expansions. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood would get an 1,100-room guitar-shaped hotel, and the Coconut Creek casino, also in Broward County, would be expanded, as well as the tribe's Immokalee casino in Collier County. Total cost will be in the "multiple billions," Bitner said.

"Clearly, a project … of this magnitude requires the approval of a compact," he said.

The deal signed by Crist in November 2007 gave the tribe exclusive rights to "banked" card games, including blackjack, with gamblers playing against the house. The tribe agreed to give the state at least $100 million a year, as much as $500 million as revenues climb.

After the Supreme Court ruling, the Seminoles kept dealing blackjack in Hollywood and expanded the card games to the Tampa Hard Rock and Immokalee. The tribe still sends monthly payments — which now total $75 million — into a state escrow account while the compact remains in legal limbo.

Monday, Seminole officials said legislators could have $288 million for next year's budget and see 45,000 new jobs created from new construction at the four casinos — if they agreed to a compact.

Republicans expect to pick apart the compact and hear from various interests before any deal. Jones says it's not fair that racetracks didn't get new games when the Seminoles did. The deal's impact on Florida's $5 billion thoroughbred horse breeding industry deserves consideration, says Rep. Bill Galvano, chair of the House Select Committee on Seminole Gaming Compact Review. "As we look at gambling issues in the state's borders, we've got to look at all the moving parts," he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

• Projected cost of about $800 million

• 22 stories high

• 1,000 rooms

• 50,000 square feet of meeting space

• Parking garage with 6,000 spaces

• Music hall with 1,500 to 2,000 seats

Tampa Hard Rock expansion planned — if state passes gaming deal 02/04/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 7:58am]

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