|By Steve Huettel, St. Petersburg Times, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 9, 2004 - TAMPA, Fla. -- Plenty of people rolled their eyes three years ago when Murray Klauber announced plans for a multimillion-dollar conference center near shipyards and fuel depots at Tampa's port.
Now, the 77-year-old founder of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort at Longboat Key says he has lined up a five-star hotel operator and a lender for the $400-million project on land in the Channel District owned by the Tampa Port Authority.
His corporation, Tampa International Technology Center, must have a financing commitment by March and begin construction one year after that under a development agreement scheduled to go before port commissioners Oct. 19.
The project likely will get going much sooner now that a leading hotel operator is on board, said Tampa attorney Stephen Mitchell, who represents the developers.
"It is on the threshold," he said. "The key is when you have the (hotel) flag. The lenders want to know who that is. The investors want to know." Developers soon will identify the hotel brand and the financial syndicate, Mitchell said.
Klauber has experience with the high-end hospitality business. Known to nearly everyone as "Murf," Klauber shares responsibility with his daughter for the operation of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, where beachfront houses and penthouse suites range from $925 to $1,425 a night in the spring.
Plans for the Tampa project are as big as its name: the Tampa Global Communication Teleconvergence Center.
The 45-story tower would be almost as tall as Tampa's biggest skyscrapers, the Bank of America Plaza and 100 N. Tampa. It would contain the only hotel to rate a five-star ranking in the Tampa Bay area and be among only a handful in Florida. Plans call for 135 condominiums on the top floor, priced from about $500,000 to $2-million, and 450 hotel rooms and suites.
Adjacent to the tower will be a conference center, with three amphitheaters, a 22,000-square-foot exhibition floor, and board and meeting rooms. All will be linked to global satellite and fiber-optic cable and wireless systems, developers say.
They expect to attract big corporations that want to hold executive conferences or training sessions that can be beamed instantly around the globe or recorded. "Every three or four days, new visitors will come down, filling up Channelside, filling up the trolley, filling up the cruise ships," Mitchell said.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who met with developers and hotel representatives a month ago, said she was excited about the chance to bring a five-star hotel to the city. "These are the kinds of opportunities you only see in the most sophisticated city business environments," she said.
The project also has reignited a debate over the Port Authority moving out of traditional industrial businesses to make room for real estate development.
Klauber's project will be beside Metroport, a slip leased to International Ship Repair & Marine Services, the port's second-largest shipyard. The Port Authority would fill in the slip for a commercial tower Klauber wants to build after the conference center and hotel.
Interim Port Director Zelko Kirincich wrote International Ship on Aug. 9 that the agency would not renew its lease on the slip after Jan. 31, 2006.
Filling in the slip would cost the port 1,300 feet of berth space that could never be replaced so close to downtown Tampa, said International Ship president Tad Humphreys. Losing the space will cost his company business and jobs, he said.
"This proposed development goes beyond debating the right mix of business for the Channelside area," Humphreys said. "This development reduces the size of the port, with no plan for replacement of the lost waterfront."
International Ship owns property across Ybor Channel from Metroport. But another shipyard, Gulf Marine Repair, is being forced to move when its lease with the Port Authority expires so developer Trammell Crow can build a warehouse and office project.
The public agency is setting the stage for further conflict by putting commercial businesses that cater to the public so close to heavy industry, said attorney Tim Shusta, who serves on an association representing industrial companies at the port.
"The five-star hotel would be in an area near chemical tanks and an asphalt plant," he said. "What happens when the five-star hotel people complain about the noxious odors?"
Iorio said the Port Authority's waterfront property is "in transition" as more residential and commercial projects sprout up across Channelside Drive. "I don't see it as only industrial," she said.
Kirincich and other Port Authority officials involved with the conference center project declined requests for interviews Friday.
The agency will receive more than $2-million a year in rent for the 11 acres on Channelside Drive, said a Port Authority spokeswoman. The 40-year lease, with four 10-year extensions, would leave the waterfront on Ybor Channel in public hands.
The Port Authority wants to build a future cruise terminal on that land, Klauber said.
WHAT'S NEXT? A public hearing on the new development agreement is set for 10 a.m. Monday at Tampa Port Authority headquarters, 1101 Channelside Drive, Tampa. Port commissioners are scheduled to discuss the agreement Oct. 19.
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