|By Dana Sanchez, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 14, 2004 - PALMETTO, Fla. -- A full-service hotel on the site of the Manatee Convention and Civic Center could bolster the facility's convention business and make it more competitive, area tourism leaders said Monday.
The Tourist Development Council directed the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau on Monday to put out a request for proposals for a hotel to be built on the grounds of the civic center.
The convention center desperately needs a hotel to accommodate visitors who come for conventions and shows, tourism officials say.
Going after a hotel on the civic center site would provide the bureau what it's been looking for, said Joe McClash, chairman of the Tourist Development Council.
"In the past, we've relied upon adjacent property owners," McClash said. "Here, the county has enough property to put a hotel in place without sacrificing anything."
A multi-story hotel could be built in the convention center parking lot facing Haben Boulevard without compromising existing parking spaces, said McClash, a Manatee County commissioner.
Built 13 feet above the ground with 120 to 150 rooms, a hotel could have a relatively small footprint and potentially provide added parking within the structure as well as underneath it.
Without an adjacent hotel, convention centers traditionally struggle, said Elliot Falcione, director of facilities for the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. "When you deal with a convention planner, one of the first questions they ask is: What kind of adjacent hotel space do you have?"
Meeting and convention planners look for a one-stop shop where vendors and clients can walk to the convention hall, Falcione said.
Currently, the Manatee convention center generates 8,000 to 10,000 hotel room nights per year.
"Realistically, that could almost double if you add an adjacent hotel," he said.
The Tampa convention center generated about a third more rooms after the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina was built adjacent to it about five years ago, said John Moors, administrator of convention facilities and tourism in Tampa.
When a convention center has designated a "headquarters hotel" as part of its portfolio, "you become a player in a much larger market," Moors said.
The Tampa hotel generated a spike in the number of site visits and enhanced the convention center's total package.
McClash envisions a co-operative agreement with a future hotelier on the site, with the county leasing the space.
"We don't need to make money off the hotel," McClash said. "We want to benefit the civic center."
Such an agreement might include the hotel operator providing landscaping and parking lot maintenance for the site, McClash said.
A hotel on the site of the convention center makes more sense than ever with all the development going on across the street, tourism officials said.
Recent and ongoing construction across from the convention center in Palmetto includes upscale housing, a marina and restaurant at Riviera Dunes, and a day spa and restaurant at Riverside Plaza.
"The whole economy of that area has changed," McClash said.
The Manatee convention center occupies about eight acres at the corner of Haben Boulevard and U.S. 301.
"There's a lot of space for a hotel," McClash said. "There's plenty of opportunity for someone to get creative."
A dozen or more serious inquiries from hoteliers looking to build adjacent to the civic center since it opened in 1985 fell through over land costs, said Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
White said he would like to see a 200-room hotel on the site and would favor exploring co-operative arrangements that include use of the civic center's food services.
"There's so much pent-up first-class hotel business north of the river that's waiting to be booked," White said.
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