Five companies vie to handle catering for, add restaurant to Tampa Convention Center

Convention center space at the northwest corner of S Franklin Street and Channelside Drive is being offered for a restaurant.
Convention center space at the northwest corner of S Franklin Street and Channelside Drive is being offered for a restaurant.
Published April 20, 2016

TAMPA — The area around the Tampa Convention Center used to be a dead zone.

Today it's anything but. So City Hall thinks this is the time to bring a restaurant to a long-vacant corner of the 600,000-square-foot center.

Last week, it got proposals from five big food service companies seeking the center's food and beverage contract, which comes with the chance to put a restaurant in 5,000 square feet at the northwest corner of S Franklin Street and Channelside Drive.

The Tampa Bay History Center was there, but moved out in 2009. Since then, the Riverwalk has been expanded and come alive. More than 1,300 new apartments are going up nearby. And Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment are working on even bigger plans.

"That's a perfect space, particularly now," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "The one knock on Tampa has always been that there isn't enough retail and restaurants around the convention center. … Over the next decade that will change significantly."

The contenders for the contract are:

• Aramark, the Philadelphia-based company that has had the city's contract since the convention center opened a little more than 25 years ago.

• Spectra Food Services, a partnership between Tampa's Columbia Restaurant Group and national entertainment firm Spectra by Comcast Spectacor. Columbia president Richard Gonzmart has said the proposal would give visitors "authentic local flavors."

• Centerplate, an exclusive food service vendor of the Florida State Fair Authority and concessionaire to the Tampa Bay Rays.

• Levy Restaurants, a Chicago-based company with contracts for convention centers in Dallas, Boston, Cleveland and Atlanta.

• Savor PNS, a venture involving SMG Food and Beverage, a company based near Philadelphia with convention center contracts in Toronto, Denver, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Last month, City Hall issued a request for proposals to operate a restaurant, bars, concession stands and catering services for up to 11,000 people a day. The convention center covers two city blocks and has ballrooms for banquets of more than 2,100 diners.

Total convention center revenue from catering and concessions ranges from about $7 million to $8 million a year, though sales dipped during the Great Recession. The city wants a renewable five-year agreement that pays the convention center a base commission plus a split of the profits. Currently, the Aramark contract pays the city an average of $3.5 million to $4.5 million a year, convention center director Rick Hamilton said.

In addition to the new restaurant, Buckhorn said he wants to maximize revenue at the convention center and energize the Sail Pavilion, an outdoor bar and restaurant that he sees as a "hub for people wanting to gather."

Along with the Riverwalk, he said surrounding development will create a critical mass of new activity around the convention center.

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The Vinik-Cascade partnership is getting ready to start road construction on a 40-acre redevelopment of the waterfront near Amalie Arena. That $2 billion project includes a hotel with up to 500 rooms within two blocks of the convention center.

Another developer, the Related Group out of Miami, has two residential projects in the works: a 21-story tower now under construction on Harbour Island and an approved 400-unit apartment complex and riverfront restaurant on the current site of the Tampa Tribune. A second 21-story residential tower is more than a year into construction on Harbour Island.

To the east, the Richman Group is building the Aurora apartment complex at the southeast corner of E Whiting and S Morgan streets. The 351 units will begin preleasing in May with an opening in July.

As new residents move into the southern end of downtown, Buckhorn said, "this could be the start of a totally different retail and hospitality environment on the water."

Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.