Conventional Wisdom On Hold

Tampa’s mid-sized, 14-year-old convention center is still on hold regarding expansion plans. That’s the latest, more or less, from John Moors, the man who runs it. Last year a task force gave a thumbs down to the idea of replacing the center for more than $300 million. But left open were expansion options with smaller price tags. (The center was built for $72 million in 1990.)

What the center grapples with is this:

*There’s more supply (new and expanded centers and hotels) out there than ever before, and the pressure is on to keep up with the “core competition,” notably Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville and, increasingly, Orlando.

*As a key part of the city’s economic-development tool kit, the center would like to “layer the business,” explains Moors. That is, be able to run more than one convention/trade show concurrently. As it is, a 3-day convention takes a week, including set-up and tear-down time. That’s 4 days of no economic impact.

*If they build it, will they, indeed, come? Business — especially since Sept. 11, 2001 — hasn’t been gangbusters lately, although bookings for 2006-2009 are looking “very positive,” says Moors.

These are the three scenarios that Moors ponders:

*Expansion with the addition of another headquarters hotel — one that would add about 800 rooms to the inventory. This would be “preferable,” notes Moors. And, no, the 371-room, Embassy Suites hotel that will break ground this summer across from the center, doesn’t count. It’s already factored in.

*Expansion with no such additional anchor hotel. This is “not preferable,” adds Moors.

*Status quo — even as the Sunbelt competition continues to heat up. This is, well, not preferable either.

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