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Convention Center might boost downtown, report says

The opening of the city's new Convention Center could do far more than entice tourists to Tampa: It might spur a dramatic transformation of downtown Tampa and the riverfront. The scenario goes as follows: Curtis Hixon Convention Center, made obsolete by the new center, is torn down, opening up valuable riverfront land for development. A few years later, the William Poe Parking Garage also is razed, opening up more city land. The city property, now stretching from the NCNB Plaza to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, becomes available for development.

A consultant's draft report outlining this course of events gives the city four alternatives for using the land. The options run the gamut from creating a publicly financed arts district to selling parcels of land for private office development.

Although the city intends to tear down Curtis Hixon, the decision for future use of the riverfront land depends greatly on real-estate market conditions and the availability of public funds, city officials said.

"If the plan doesn't reflect the realities of the market, then that is not going to be what in fact occurs," said Mike Salmon, the city's public works administrator and a member of the steering committee studying the issue.

As proposed by the Florida Center for Urban Design and Research, the four preliminary options are:

Using the Curtis Hixon property for museums and park space. In addition to expanding the Tampa Museum of Art, the city would build two major new cultural facilities, one likely to be a Tampa History Museum. The Poe Garage would be razed after its bonds are paid off.

Because this option would not enable the city to sell its waterfront land to outside developers, it would be the most expensive alternative, costing an estimated $59.3-million over 30 years.

Creating public-private developments that combine public art institutions _ including the expansion of the Tampa Museum and creation of a Tampa History Museum _ with new office buildings on Ashley Street. The city would lease the land to developers, who would construct museums or cultural facilities on the first few floors of their buildings.

This plan would include some housing along the river, as well as street-level retail shops on Ashley Street and up Twiggs Street to Franklin Street Mall.

With revenues coming to the city from the lease of the land, this option is predicted to earn the city $32.7-million over 30 years.

Opting for a similar public-private partnership that would expand the Tampa Museum of Art in its current location and build new cultural facilities at the north end of Franklin Street at Tyler Street, where the Tampa History Museum would be built.

The remainder of the Curtis Hixon and Poe Garage sites would be made available for private development. This plan also would incorporate retail and housing development. This option, predicted to produce $19-million over 30 years, would create a new arts district along Tyler Street, anchored at each end by a major cultural center.

Moving the Tampa Museum, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library and other planned cultural buildings to the north end of Franklin Street and offering all of the city property along the river available for private development. This option, including a riverwalk but no open space, would maximize the economic benefit to the city, producing an estimated $182-million over 30 years.

The consultant is expected to deliver a final report to the city's steering committee during the summer, Salmon said. The new Convention Center is scheduled to be open in October.

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