Investors share plan to develop Florida State Fairgrounds
TAMPA - An investment firm stepped up Friday and offered to redevelop the Florida State Fairgrounds with new hotels and a new agricultural expo center and entertainment area. Calling itself Sovereign Investments LLC, its representatives made an enticing pitch to the Florida State Fair Authority by offering to build the facilities at no cost to taxpayers. However, the company gave few details of its plan Friday, and its presentation to the fair authority raised lots of questions while providing few answers. The fair authority has been mulling how to raise money at the fairgrounds for several years. Some of the fair’s buildings are deteriorating, but the annual fair doesn’t bring in enough money to pay for nearly $60 million in needed renovations.Sovereign Investments’ plan could help fix that, said Jim Soble, a Tampa real estate lawyer representing the company. The company would lease about 50 of the fairgrounds’ roughly 350 acres and build a new agricultural expo and entertainment center, where many of the biggest events are held. A document Soble turned in to the fair authority gives only a vague look at Sovereign’s plans, including an area for hotels, an entertainment area, multilevel parking structures and an “experience center.” Members of Sovereign’s team include Don Ubell, a Charlotte, N.C., lawyer who specializes in municipal bonds; Eric Carl, a government bond specialist with the investment banking firm Piper Jaffray; and local civil engineer Toxey Hall. Lobbying for the firm is Barney Bishop, a consultant who used to lead the business lobby Associated Industries of Florida. Sovereign Investments may compete with one other developer for the right to develop at the fairgrounds. Republic Land Development of Virginia offered to redevelop the fairgrounds into a billion-dollar hotel, retail and entertainment complex three years ago. Its plan hasn’t moved forward, but Republic Land is still interested, an attorney for the company said.