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New convention center attracts curious crowd

The royal blue carpet took a trampling Saturday as curiosity-seekers again descended on Tampa's new Convention Center. Area residents turned out by the thousands to inspect the new waterfront center on Day Two of its grand opening.

Upstairs at the Tampa Convention Center there was a boat show with rows of sleek fiberglass fishing boats, and a mini-home show that displayed everything from paneling to patio furniture.

Downstairs, there were free restaurant desserts and, off to one corner, 50-cent oysters.

"I've been waiting three years to see this place open," said Richard Beatie, an engineer with the Tampa Electric Co. "It's really nice. It's airy and colorful. It's more festive than the Curtis Hixon center, which looked institutional."

Everywhere in the coral-and- blue building there was music, well-separated, so that the jazz did not clash with the Dixieland, and neither sound disturbed the graceful Ballet Madrid.

"I like the view of the water," said Marilyn Baily, a counselor. "It has a relaxing atmosphere. And the food was a treat."

Merchants liked the center, too, although some did not do much business.

"We're here for public exposure and to demonstrate a new product," said Norman Hathaway, whose Outdoor Leisure Products had an outdoor spa and matching lounge chair on display. "This is not a buying show. People are here looking around and taking it all in."

The festivities will continue today with a spiritual program that will feature several church groups and the University of South Florida Gospel Choir.