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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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State Fair authority votes to invite developers to submit proposals

TAMPA — Developers may get a shot at remaking the Florida State Fairgrounds after a vote Friday by the fairgrounds’ governing board, which could lead to hotels, shops or even rodeo arenas there.

The Florida State Fair Authority voted unanimously to invite developers to submit their ideas for the fairgrounds, and so far at least two developers have shown an interest.

The first, a group called Sovereign Investments, would build a $100-million arena for rodeos and livestock shows there, while another group called Republic Land Development has a bigger plan to build shops, restaurants, hotels and entertainment facilities there.

Board members insist they won’t approve any development that interferes with the annual state fair.

Developers are eager to build at the fairgrounds because of its valuable property near Interstates 4 and 75. Meanwhile, fair authority board members are hoping to raise money to fix up the fairgrounds’ deteriorating buildings. Friday morning they adopted a seven-month plan that starts Monday by inviting developers to submit their proposals and could end in June with the announcement of an official redevelopment project.

The fair authority might consider three scenarios to redevelop the fairgrounds, a consultant’s report says. The smallest scenario would redevelop only 35 acres across from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The other two scenarios would redevelop a majority of the 330-acre property, and there’s even an outside chance a developer might relocate the annual fair to another property somewhere else.

A representative of Sovereign Investments spoke at the end of Friday’s meeting and said the fair authority’s process for evaluating proposals is rigged in favor of certain developers.

Barney Bishop, a lobbyist for the firm, said Sovereign only wants to redevelop a small sliver on the fairgrounds’ western edge. There, it would build a 200,000 square-foot agricultural and entertainment hall for hosting rodeos, motorsports and livestock shows, and later it might build a hotel.

The fair authority’s review process seems to give more weight to a major redevelopment that could build shops, hotels and entertainment businesses on much of the fairgrounds’ 330 acres, Bishop said. He also warns that by the summer, Sovereign’s cost of obtaining bond financing might be too high.

“You are inviting a lawsuit on the front end and you are inviting a lawsuit on the back end,” he told fair authority board members.

The second company likely to submit a proposal, Republic Land Development, did not speak publicly at the meeting Friday.

In the past, it has proposed a resort hotel; a shopping complex; a pedestrian mall; a golf-themed restaurant with driving range; a stadium for soccer or other sports events; and a monorail to transport people across the property. At one time, it even proposed building a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, but it backed away from those plans.

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