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Florida Convention Center Expands, Renovates

August 31, 2012 By: Elliott Mest

The Manatee Convention Center in Bradenton, Fla., is getting its largest renovation ever after opening in 1985. Renamed the Bradenton Area Convention Center, the facility is going to provide a 32,000 square-foot convention space with an additional 15,000 square-foot conference center, complete with full service food, beverage and A/V capabilities.

In a move financed by tourism tax dollars, the Convention Center also purchased a 16.5 acre bay front area, as well as the local Powel Crosley mansion that will be used for special events. With so many new capabilities to offer, the only thing missing from the convention center is a hotel.

“We are putting together a group of officials to see what incentives we can offer to developers who want to build a hotel here,” said Elliott Falcioni, executive director for the Bradenton Area Convention Center. “We want them to put a hotel right on our property so they don’t have to purchase anything. We want developers to know they can benefit from a strong sports market segment here, and it will also benefit local businesses to have a hotel here.”

According to Falcioni, the meetings market in Bradenton is currently flat. “The problem right now is that there is a lot of competition out there, and we compete with resorts,” Falcioni said. “Oftentimes resorts are used to house convention members and meeting attendees, and the closest hotel for us is about a mile away.”

Recently, the tropical storm Debbie grazed the area arousing activity from hoteliers and convention staff to brush up on their disaster training. “Debbie was a wakeup call,” Falcioni said. “Hurricane Isaac hasn’t hurt us so far, but we haven’t seen hurricane activity in our area in almost 30 years. There is a lot of fear that you can get complacent and let your guard down. We don’t see storms like this often, but we want to be prepared.

Currently, Bradenton is operating in its slowest month but is receiving a slight boost from the nearby Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. “We put equity in Tampa to raise awareness for our county,” Falcioni said. “We expect to do good from the RNC. Research also shows that four to six months after a presidential election the meetings business gears up. There is some pent-up demand in our area as well. Visitation is up 8 percent over last year, and tourism tax is up 24 percent over last year as well.”


At this point, Falcioni is just waiting for the center to open fully. “We have been renovating for two years, and it took that long because we didn’t close our doors completely,” he said. “We didn’t want to lose customers in the long term. We juggled around events to make it work with the renovations, but there were times we had to turn away prospective customers. Our open house is set for Sept. 12, and we can’t wait to get out there.”

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