During the Visit Gainesville Tourism Development Council meeting on Wednesday, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce pitched a newly proposed conference center to the board members.
The proposed 53,000-square-foot conference center would be located on the north side of Hull Road behind the UF Hilton, an area that is already under construction to connect Hull Road and 38th Terrace and to add student apartments, a 137-room hotel and space for retail.
Adrian Taylor, the vice president for Innovation Gainesville and regional initiatives for the Chamber, said that this project is one of many projects in mind in an effort to move the area forward. Gainesville’s proven that it needs a larger meeting space than can be provided currently, he said, and the city is losing opportunities for conferences and tradeshows to Orlando and other surrounding areas.
“We have great assets here, but we just don’t have the space for some things,” he said. NP International, the developer of the area currently has the plot set out for office space, but approached the city to ask if they wanted a conference center instead, according to Taylor.
The proposed facility would double the capacity of the UF Hilton meeting space and feature modular meeting spaces that could hold more than 500 at a seated banquet and more than 1,000 in a conference-style meeting. Taylor also said that the area affords quick access to Butler Plaza, UF’s museums and performance hall, and downtown by bus, as well as offering UF’s faculty the ease of going from class to conference without having to leave town.
According to Taylor, the apartments and hotel are scheduled to be completed in the fall to early spring, so the potential timeline for the proposed center would start relatively soon, though he and the other Chamber members reiterated multiple times that they were in the early stages of planning and issues like ownership haven’t been addressed yet.
Besides ownership, issues that repeatedly came up were road capacity in the area surrounding the UF Hilton, the need to do exhaustive research on the reality of need before diving into the project and the prospect of pulling business away from existing meeting spaces like the UF Hilton and the Best Western Grand.
Taylor addressed issues by pointing out that the area was already zoned for high-density development years ago, so the city was already prepared for a project this size, and that Keith Watson – one of the members on the conference center committee – told him that he was having to turn down two to three events per month because of a lack of space.
Were the city to move forward, said Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Mitch Glaeser, the potential impact on small business, job creation, the airport and sales tax revenue would be significant. The Chamber said in a press release that more than $65,000 room nights are lost every year without a larger space and that it estimates 1,000 jobs would be created as a byproduct of the project. Something is going to be built on the plot whether the city moves forward with the proposal or not, so the project is worth discussing, Glaeser said.