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Tampa Convention Center loses millions, but finds new role

Officials remain optimistic about tourism and conventions, and the Tampa City Council begins meeting there soon
The Tampa Covention Center has found new role in the coronavirus pandemic: hosting City Council meetings.
The Tampa Covention Center has found new role in the coronavirus pandemic: hosting City Council meetings. [ Times (1998) ]
Published May 26, 2020|Updated May 26, 2020

TAMPA — For the Tampa Convention Center, the bottom line isn’t pretty.

But city and tourism officials have found silver linings in the pandemic that has cost the facility millions since the coronavirus shut down the country in March.

For starters, a surprising number of events remain on the books through the end of the year — good news for the 600,000-square-foot facility on the water that opened in 1990 and has served as a foundational cornerstone of the city’s downtown resurgence.

Although the convention center lost about half of its roughly 50 bookings since March — including the mega-event, Wrestlemania — it has held on to 20 bookings so far for the rest of the year, said Una Garvey, the center’s convention and tourism director.

Comicon, scheduled for July 10-12, recently reaffirmed its intention to hold its event, she said. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners plans on holding its annual exam for aspiring lawyers (with appropriate social distancing) later that month. And another big event, the International Boat Builders Exhibition, is still slated for the end of September.

That’s good news for the center, which is projected to lose $5.8 million in revenue because of the pandemic, a big hit for the city-owned and operated venue, and one which sobered city council members when budget officials presented the total to them in a recent fiscal forecast.

Of the 27 cancellations, though, ten have rebooked for future dates, said Garvey.

“That’s a successful percentage," she said.

And the crisis has presented a new role for the convention center, which will host city council meetings in June.

Council chairman Guido Maniscalco said the city is lucky to have the space available in a venue that belongs to the city.

“I’m glad we have it because if we didn’t, the costs would skyrocket,” Maniscalco said.

The center is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local guidelines on sanitization and will check temperatures of all visitors. The council meeting, for example, will be spaced with members at their own desks more than six feet apart and ample space between staff and members of the public, who will be seated in chairs more than six feet apart. The meeting will be shown on large monitors and an overflow room will be available.

The convention center is a vital piece of the city’s tourism industry, said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.

“It’s a piece of a bigger puzzle, but an important piece,” Corrada said. “When you think of other cities around the state, some of them are completely dependent on beaches. We have the great fortune of being able to leverage both.”

Corrada remains positive about the resiliency of the city’s tourism profile, including the Super Bowl in February. Recent projections indicate 137 definite events with more than 407,000 hotel room nights with an economic impact of $231 million between Oct. 1 and September 2021, he said.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story misidentified the group holding the bar exam in the convention center in July. It is the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.

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