State Fair officials wishing big

Published April 26, 2007

TAMPA - To boost attendance and increase revenue, Florida State Fair officials are considering adding two hotels and an RV campground to the 355-acre fairgrounds property.

The proposed projects are among $61-million in improvements recommended in a consultant's report approved by the fair's board last year. Nearby residents learned of the plan at a meeting with fair officials this month.

A 100-room hotel could go up near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. A 150-room hotel might land near Interstate 4 and U.S. 301. And a 200-unit recreational vehicle park near the corner of US 301 and MLK is also in the mix.

"It's a little bit along the lines of a wish list," Florida State Fair Authority chairman A.D. "Sandy" MacKinnon said. "It's nothing that's going to come out of the ground tomorrow or that we have design blueprints for. ... But it certainly has its merits."

The authority - a 20-member board that oversees the fairgrounds - voted in favor of the concepts that consultants proposed last year, but it hasn't reviewed or approved detailed plans.

Right now, there's no money to pay for them, fair authority executive director Charles Pesano said.

"Internally, it will be difficult - probably impossible - for us generate the funds to do these projects," he said.

Later this year, board members will likely rank portions of the plan and consider funding options, Pesano said, including possible state or county assistance.

Fair officials will present it to county commissioners and other government officials soon, he said.

Selling or leasing property for the hotels could be options, Pesano said, but the fair board won't build or run them.

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 813 661-2454.