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A pirate's bounty may await city that gets ship museum

The city will pull out all the stops this week as it tries to pirate a multimillion-dollar waterfront attraction and 350 permanent jobs away from Boston.

A group of investors considering whether to construct a $70-million pirate museum/theme park here or in Boston was scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Tampa, where they will be courted intensely today.

On Thursday, the group will visit the original Boston site proposed more than a year ago. They will announce their decision on Friday, said Tom Bernstein, one of the two general partners in Pirate Complex Development and Management Inc. of New York.

Asked if the timing of the announcement indicated the group already has made up its mind, Bernstein said, "We've done a lot of work already. By the end of the two site visits, we'll have all the information we need to make a decision. We're businessmen; we get things done."

Both Tampa and Boston could use the economic shot in the arm provided by the park, to be called the Whydah Pirate Complex. The project would employ 300 construction workers during the 18-month building phase and another 350 permanent workers to staff the attraction upon completion.

It is projected to generate $10-million annually in goods and services contracts and attract 1.5-million visitors a year.

Until recently, it was assumed that the Whydah Pirate Complex _ named after the salvaged pirate vessel that will be the centerpiece of the museum _ would be constructed in Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard, half a mile from the USS Constitution. Negotiations and public review of the proposed project have been ongoing for more than a year.

But in August, around the time the sale of bonds to finance the Florida Aquarium was completed, Tampa officials talked to Bernstein and partner Roland Betts about moving the project here. The Whydah Complex, like the Aquarium, would be part of a proposed 20-acre waterfront development called the Garrison Seaport Center.

The regulatory and permitting process would be relatively swift, according to Joe Valenti, director of the Tampa Port Authority, which owns the land on which the Garrison project would be built.

Bernstein, who with Betts is a principal in Silverscreen Management Inc., a well-known New York-based film-financing company, acknowledged that the sudden negotiations with Tampa may be seen as an attempt to gain leverage in their negotiations with Boston.

"That will always be said when two parties are involved," he said. "It's certainly to our advantage to have two cities interested. It gets people's attention."

Tampa officials, naturally, think their city is the best place for a project that revolves around pirates.

"The logic is compelling to locate the facility here," said Harvey Schmitt, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

"With Gasparilla, Jose Gaspar, the Buccaneers and tourism it presents a much better picture."

But Boston isn't going to give up the Whydah without a fight, said Ralph Menolo, spokesman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which owns the Navy Yard.

Paul Barrett, the recently appointed Redevelopment Authority director who previously headed economic development for the authority, is determined to make Boston's case, Menolo said.

"This is an economic development opportunity and he takes it very seriously," Menolo said.

Although Bernstein and Betts have visited the Tampa site, the group's limited partners have not. They will take a helicopter tour of the area today after a breakfast and press conference at the Tampa Port Authority's Garrison Cruise Terminal.

The breakfast, hosted by the Tampa Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Association, will feature an appearance of the Jose Gasparilla ship and its crew of pirates, courtesy of Tampa's Ye Mystic Krewe.

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