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East County Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019 10 months ago

Manatee County commissioners consider Bradenton Area Convention Center expansion

New hotel spurs vision for larger, improved expansion convention center.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Manatee County commissioners today took a serious look at a $15.3 million conceptual plan to expand the Bradenton Area Convention Center with an larger lobby, a 15,000-square-foot multipurpose room and a parking garage.

A proposed air-conditioned corridor would connect the Convention Center to a future 252-room, eight-story Sheraton hotel planned for 18 acres adjacent to the center. The hotel itself is being built by a private hotel developer, which is planning to break ground in October and open in April 2021. It will have 10,000 square feet of meeting space, a full service restaurant, a rooftop lounge and more than 32,000-square-foot outdoor special event space.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Elliott Falcione said the Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes to invest $4.5 million of the $15.3 million toward building enhancements, such as parking lot improvements and interior upgrades. 

“We want it to look like one (project). We want it to look like a destination,” Falcione said.

The combination would allow the convention and visitors bureau to attract out-of-town conferences, pageantry events, trade shows and other large-scale events to the area.

The Convention Center hopes to put its project to bid in December and then begin construction in July 2020, allowing the expansion to be complete just before the hotel opens.

“This is going to be a great option for us,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said.

She liked that the funding will come from Tourism Development Tax revenues.

Other commissioners said they generally supported the idea, but worried about the cost.

“I’m not saying I’m not in favor of it, but I need more convincing,”Commissioner Steve Jonsson said.

Commissioner Betsy Benac agreed, but said the board would need to be forward-thinking to make the project work. There is concern about the risk involved.

"You do have to have a vision and you have to step up sometimes," Benac said. "I think there's maybe a little more detail to fill in."

Commissioners Misty Servia and Vanessa Baugh said they liked the plan conceptually but worry about the cost.

Whitmore lobbied board members to support the idea.

"We don't have anything like this from St. Petersburg to Naples," she said. "Our current convention center is tired looking. If you're going to have a four-star hotel there, you need to have a comparable convention center. Let's take a risk. It's tourist tax. Let's do something first-class for Manatee County."

Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace said the county needs to create something special. 

"I think it's a win-win. I think this is great for the community. I think it's great for the county," she said.

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