Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Could a convention center be Plan B for St. Petersburg's waterfront?

Imagine life without the iconic Pier, or the Lens project.

It could come to that if the city structures a referendum question that asks residents for an all-or-nothing vote on the Lens project.

A recent Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 poll found that many residents (47 percent) aren't sold on the $50 million project.

So hypothetically, an unfavorable vote on the Lens project could result in $50 million for a project to be named later. Keep in mind, because of the way that money is raised, spending it is limited to downtown, so those funds can't be spent on a new police station or other projects.

Does the city have a backup plan? Or should our leaders have a greater vision beyond whatever replaces the Pier

I'd like to make a case for a medium-sized convention center.

The city, county and the Chamber of Commerce should start talking about a grander vision for the city — beyond being named an arts destination — and look for ways to capitalize on packaging the city's multiple amenities.

A great way to do that — with a focus on job creation — would be to add a convention center near the waterfront.

I'm not talking about an empty space that fills only when a professional group comes to town, but a multiuse complex that could include a major hotel, shops and a permanent home for the Florida Orchestra or a ballet company. A complex similar in size to the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford would be ideal.

That center has 140,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 40,000-square-foot ballroom and 25,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

Currently, there is no convention center in Pinellas County. Surely there's a market for conventions here.

"We can do meetings for 500 or 600 delegates,'' said D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, speaking in reference to what is currently here.

"There are 11 big meeting spaces in the county, which are mainly in hotels," he said, adding that Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater works with the hotels along the beaches and the different municipalities

So why hasn't there been a push for a convention center here?

The answer is as simple as competition.

"We wouldn't want to compete with anything at the Tampa Convention Center," said Minich, adding that there's already enough competition for conventions between Tampa and Orlando.

The Tampa Convention Center is a 600,000-square-foot facility with 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 36,000-square-foot ballroom, and 36 breakout rooms that total over 42,000 square feet of additional meeting space.

But we're not talking very large conventions in the Sunshine City. There's an opportunity to carve out a niche for the smaller conventions. Admission packages to museums and performing arts events could be an added lure.

A perfect example is the 2011 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts convention. The 5,000 participants at the convention, which was hosted by the Tampa Museum of Art and held at the Tampa Convention Center, spent much of their time here.

No one understands that more than Jeff Shorr, owner of the Craftsman House Gallery Café Pottery Studio.

"We have the biggest clay community in the Southeast right here in St. Petersburg," he said. But there's no mass transit or convention center here.

Many conventioneers spent time here, where the galleries are. They also wanted to browse the shops and restaurants or just go to the beach. While plans for a convention center may not be on the table, there's no time like the present to start talking about the possibilities.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or at (727) 893-8874 and on Twitter at @StPeteSandi.

Comments
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18