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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 1 month ago

Plan to expand area convention center aims to bring more visitors — and dollars — to town

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A new Sheraton hotel will be built adjacent to the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

The Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto has 32,000 square feet of exhibit space. But with a plan in the works to expand the Manatee County facility, officials see bigger opportunities ahead.

Before the end of 2019, a groundbreaking will be held for a new Sheraton hotel adjacent to the convention center. Getting the hotel under construction is the first step in the expansion process, says Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Pam Eubanks. Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says expanding the Bradenton Area Convention Center would help it attract more conferences and other events.

An expanded convention center could mean a more robust roster of events hosted at the venue and more travelers staying and spending money in the area. But there are some key steps, and obstacles, to overcome first before a plan can be realized.

One key is government buy-in. For that, a few months ago, Falcione presented a conceptual idea for the expansion to Manatee County commissioners at a workshop. Falcione and his team are putting together a business case for the Tourist Development Council’s consideration that will likely be presented within the next quarter. Because tourist development tax dollars would be used for the project, it has to go through the council for a recommendation to commissioners. “We’re going through all of our due diligence,” Falcione says.

During the workshop, Falcione presented an estimated budget of $15 million to $16 million. He also brought forth the idea of an additional 15,000-square-foot multipurpose room, a parking garage and an air-conditioned connector linking to the hotel to shelter guests from heat and rain.

As part of the due diligence process, Falcione’s team has contacted meeting planners in Florida, Washington, D.C., and Chicago to ask if the proposed expansion size would be effective. They received positive feedback.

With an additional 15,000 square feet, the center would have exhibit space, breakout rooms and eight meeting rooms, plus ballroom and meeting space in the adjacent Sheraton. “We would integrate the interior decor the hotel will have,” Falcione says. “It would all integrate, almost like being in a resort setting. We would go through an exterior and interior upgrade on the aesthetics.”

Upgrades would include resurfacing the parking lot and adding landscaping to make the center and hotel look like a single destination.

Courtesy. An upgrade of the Bradenton Area Convention Center would include integrating its interior decor with the decor of the hotel.

After an expansion, Falcione says the center could accommodate 700 to 1,000 attendees, depending on a conference’s configuration. “It would be the perfect facility for small conferences that are out there,” he says. One target would be Florida association conferences.

Falcione says the impact of an expanded center would be felt throughout the area. “It would be infusing more dollars into the urban core every year,” he says. “That’s why convention centers are built.” In almost every case, he says, governments own convention centers, built for the purpose of stimulating the economy.

Courtesy. Upgrades to the Bradenton Area Convention Center would include resurfacing the parking lot and adding landscaping to make the center and hotel look like a single destination.

Ideally, work on the center would be concurrent with hotel construction, so the properties could open and be marketed together.

Falcione says the upgraded center would fill a void in the area’s offerings. It’s already a strong leisure and sports market, he says, as well as a strong market for niche interests, such as eco, agricultural and culinary tourism. “Where we fall short are group sales and conference sales,” he says. “It’s really an opportunity for us.”

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