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Center study is delayed

Plans for a convention center in Clearwater are on hold for at least a year, unless the city pitches in some money to pay for the rest of a consultant's study. So far, the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council has paid for the study that says Clearwater is ready for a medium-size convention center. City officials also were hoping to learn how much a center would cost and how much the city would have to subsidize it.

But the money for this year has run out, and Clearwater officials did not realize they had to apply for funds for 1990-91.

"We didn't know until I heard about it informally," Assistant City Manager Michael Wright said Tuesday. "By then it was too late. . . . I'd never run into that before."

The Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, not the City Commission, initiated the convention center project, but the commission is in charge of reviewing the plans.

Consultants Hammer-Siler-George Associates of Fort Lauderdale came up with five locations they thought would work for the 152,000-square-foot center that would contain an exhibit hall, meeting rooms, a banquet area, kitchen and a large lobby.

Commissioners narrowed the sites to three _ downtown, the yacht basin and Sand Key. The consultants said the downtown site probably would work best.

The city has spent $24,400 on the consultant work so far, with the understanding that it would be reimbursed by the tourist council. But the rest of the project costs _ about $26,000 _ also will be on hold until the city applies for money for 1991-92, Wright said.

"We could continue with city funds or private money," Wright said. "But I haven't seen any interest from the commission to spend its own money on this."

Consultant Michael Ezell told Clearwater that the criteria used for choosing the best sites were access, parking, relationship to hotels and restaurants, site availability and cost.

The specific sites now are:

Vacant Gulf-front land immediately south of the Sheraton Sand Key.

The downtown Maas Brothers site overlooking Clearwater Harbor.

The Yacht Basin on Clearwater Beach.

The Sand Key site, the study says, has access to hotels, restaurants and the beach, but the drawback is traffic congestion.

The downtown area provides more convenient access for local use, but it is far from hotels at the beach and does not provide nighttime activity.

The Yacht Basin would have a problem with traffic, but it is close to several hotels, restaurants and shops.

Although the plans will be on the back burner until next year, Wright said a convention center is still something the city and the Chamber would like to see in Clearwater.

The study says Clearwater can sustain a convention center with a 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall, which is larger than anything hotels can offer now.

It should be able to handle 58 events a year, bringing in 85,000 people each year.

Other convention centers in the area include the Florida Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg, which has 152,000 square feet of exhibit space on its floor, the 70,000-square-foot Lakeland Civic Center and Tampa's new 200,000-square-foot center.

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