State Fair directors reject plan to build hotel, RV park

Published Sept. 30, 2014

TAMPA — Deflated directors of the Florida State Fair Authority shot down a developer's proposal Monday to build a hotel, an RV park and a field house at the fairgrounds, saying they expect more money and more "wow."

The proposal from Republic Land Development was a much scaled-down version of a plan it introduced about a year ago to bring more venues — and more revenue — to the fair property along Interstate 4 east of Tampa.

Board members expressed disappointment in the latest plan, saying it lacked the "wow factor" of the earlier pitch.

That one also included such attractions as a sports complex, a water park and a bowling alley.

"I just had a different vision than what has been presented here," board member Jeff Clyne said. "It's just a long way from where I thought this would go."

Republic's latest proposal would have generated less than $500,000 a year for the fair authority — much less than the $2 million that the fair's governing board hopes to bring in.

The fair authority is searching for development options that could bankroll a seemingly endless list of maintenance projects while state fair attendance and revenue continue to slide.

"Our expenses continue to go up simply because we have old buildings," board member Sandy McKinnon said.

Stacy Hornstein, senior vice president for Republic Land Development, cautioned the board that real estate is not a quick fix. While the first phase would involve the hotel, a field house, an RV park and, gradually, six restaurants, it would take about nine years before those parts were fully operational.

Hornstein cited parking challenges, a low median salary for the surrounding households, a lack of nearby restaurants and entertainment options to draw people into the area, and infrastructure challenges as barriers.

"We have a developmentally challenged site," he said. "I don't see any way that we could provide the infusion of cash that you all think real estate can provide."

But board members are hopeful that as the economy continues to recover, they will see more options with higher-earning potential down the road.

"If the general sense is underwhelming, then red flags go off everywhere for a decision this big," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.

"I think things are only going to get better, and we're only going to have more options down the road than we do today.