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Tampa Convention Center lands $16 million tourist tax investment

The ongoing renovations, including the planned addition of 18,000 square feet of meeting space, cost $38 million.
Shaded areas are some of the exterior improvements completed in the ongoing renovations at the Tampa Convention Center. Still to be done is the addition of 18 new meeting rooms totaling 18,000 square feet.
Shaded areas are some of the exterior improvements completed in the ongoing renovations at the Tampa Convention Center. Still to be done is the addition of 18 new meeting rooms totaling 18,000 square feet. [ City of Tampa, Hillsborough Tourist Development Council ]
Published Aug. 12, 2021

Hillsborough’s tourism leaders agreed Thursday to keep writing annual $2 million checks for the Tampa Convention Center.

The Tourist Development Council authorized eight annual contributions totaling $16 million for ongoing and future renovations at the convention center. The money will come from annual tourist tax collections — a 6 percent surcharge over overnight accommodations.

“We think there’s a great nexus between the convention center and continuing to improve its competitiveness,” said Assistant County Administrator Ron Barton. “Certainly with the number of (hotel) properties added in the community and downtown, the convention center really needs to keep up with that competitive position.”

The city of Tampa, with prior financial help from the Tourist Development Council, has completed $16.8 million worth convention center improvements since 2018. Those include remodeled and upgraded restrooms; Sail Plaza’s shade structures and pet areas; two pedestrian ramps to the Riverwalk; the addition of Big Ray’s Fish Camp for food service; new paint, carpeting and lighting for the ballroom and converting the Bay Bistro to Datz restaurant and the bar area to the Nourish Food Bowl.

The Tampa Convention Center shown in an architectural rendering by Baker Barrios Architects, Inc
The Tampa Convention Center shown in an architectural rendering by Baker Barrios Architects, Inc [ City of Tampa ]

Still ahead: Building 18,000 square feet of meeting rooms and adding adjoining restrooms; renovating additional restrooms and meeting space; improving the heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems; building two additional ramps to the Riverwalk; refurbishing the public drop-off area and other upgrades. The total renovation carries a $38 million price tag.

Rob Rosner, an economic development administrator for the city of Tampa, previewed the improvements for Tourist Development Council members in May. The formal funding request came Thursday.

“You can see how much we’ve done at the convention center and what a regional asset that is,” Mayor Jane Castor said after Rosner’s preview. “With the added meeting rooms we’ll be able to bring in additional conferences, much bigger conferences.”

The city intends to match the tourist tax dollars with $16 million from its Community Redevelopment Agency, financed by growing revenue from increasing property tax values.

The tourism board previously pledged a $10 million commitment, payable over five years, toward renovations, a contribution matched by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. The city then used the commitments to borrow $20 million for the initial refurbishing, costing $16.8 million. The remainder of the loan and additional money from the city is paying for a $7 million contract with Skanska USA toward two additional floors of waterfront meeting space.

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The renovations are expected to be completed in 2023 and run concurrently with a planned update of the convention center’s master plan. The tourist board’s approval Thursday, which still requires authorization from the Hillsborough County Commission, means the annual $2 million commitment would continue through the fiscal years 2024 to 2031.

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